Do you snore or grind your teeth while sleeping? Not only does this lead to a poorer night’s sleep, it can also wake you or your partner up night after night. If your snoring or teeth grinding is impacting your sleep, don’t ignore it any longer, it’s likely to only get worse.
Your dental health and sleep habits could be signaling that an underlying condition is impacting your rest, like sleep apnea — though not all snoring is a sign that something is wrong.
About 40 percent of adult men and 24 percent of adult women snore every night. When we’re snoozing and snoring, the airflow from breathing causes the tissue in the back of our throat to vibrate. The narrower your airway is, the louder your snoring will be.
About half of individuals who snore also have a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is a condition where your airway becomes too narrow and closes, causing you to make more of a choking noise and wake up with a start. If you wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, have ongoing sleepiness during the day, and sleep with your mouth open, speak with your physician and your dentist to see if you may have a sleep disorder.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
After evaluating your symptoms, your dentist or primary care physician may suspect you have sleep apnea and refer you to a sleep disorder center*. There, you will spend the night as you normally would – sleeping – while specialists monitor you. The sleep specialists will watch everything from your heart, lung, and brain activity to your breathing patterns, body movements, and blood oxygen levels while you’re asleep.
If they believe your sleep is abnormal and you have sleep apnea, a common treatment is using a positive airway pressure device (CPAP) while sleeping. This device fits over your head and nose, and may also cover the mouth. It gently blows air into your airway, helping to keep it open and avoid narrowing during sleep.
One in four patients with sleep apnea also habitually grind their teeth at night. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, can have immediate negative side effects like headaches and jaw pain, as well as long term side effects like temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ. This specific joint connects your jaw to your skull, and it can become injured if you continuously grind your teeth. Not everyone who grinds their teeth develops TMJ, though.
*An at-home test may also be an option.
Nighttime Teeth Grinding and your Oral Health
Another repercussion of continued teeth grinding each night is damaged teeth. If you’re gnashing, grinding, gnawing, or clenching, you can wear down your teeth over time. You can go as far as to remove their protective enamel, crack them, or wear notches into them.
It’s important to contact your dentist or primary care physician if you experience:
- Continued teeth grinding or clenching while you sleep.
- The wearing down of your tooth enamel, exposing deeper layers of the teeth or receding gum lines.
- Increased tooth sensitivity.
- Sleep disruption.
- Headaches in the temples.
- Damaged tissue on the inside of the mouth after sleeping.
- Soreness in the jaw, neck or face after sleeping.
- Pain similar to an earache.
- Tight jaw muscles.
- A locked jaw that won’t open or close completely.
- Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose.
A mouth guard while sleeping can make a world of difference for a habitual teeth grinder. Your dental and/or primary care physician can help you choose the best treatment for addressing oral health issues that keep you up at night.