Do you tend to wake up feeling groggy, with a headache, neck, or jaw pain? These can be the result of nighttime teeth grinding and, potentially, sleep apnea. While it might seem odd that these two seemingly different conditions could be connected, research suggests that the two are associated with one another.

Before we dive into the connection between teeth grinding and sleep apnea, let’s get a better understanding of the causes and characteristics of each of these issues.

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism - the medical term for teeth grinding - can happen at any time, but typically happens at night. It is characterized by jaw clenching and teeth grinding that can cause restless sleep, headaches, neck, and jaw aches.

While these symptoms aren’t severe, it can affect the quality of your sleep which can have a resounding effect on your overall health and wellbeing.

Additionally, bruxism is also characterized by a loud, disruptive noise. That’s why most cases of bruxism are identified by the partner of the person with this condition.

If left unaddressed, bruxism can lead to tooth sensitivity and tooth damage, such as cracking and chipping.

What is Sleep Apnea?

While bruxism is a relatively mild condition, sleep apnea is much more serious. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that is characterized by repeated periods of interrupted breathing during sleep. This prevents the body from getting the oxygen it needs to function properly, which can lead to some pretty serious health conditions.

In addition to feelings of tiredness and having trouble concentrating, untreated sleep apnea can lead to chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.

Like bruxism, sleep apnea is usually first detected by sleep partners who notice that their partner goes through periods of loud snoring, gasping for air, and episodes of stopped breathing during the night.

Once sleep apnea is diagnosed by a medical professional, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine will be prescribed to help provide consistent air pressure throughout the night to improve breathing.

How Are Sleep Apnea & Bruxism Connected?

Several research studies have revealed that there is a significant correlation between these two conditions. While there is a clear connection between sleep apnea and bruxism, the jury is still out on exactly why they are connected.

One working hypothesis for this correlation is that sleep apnea causes bruxism because the pauses in breathing can cause teeth grinding. This is plausible given that one in four teeth grinders also have been diagnosed with sleep apnea.

Conversely, there are other theories suggesting the reverse - that bruxism contributes to sleep apnea. This theory purports that the muscles that cause teeth grinding can also cause airway obstructions that lead to sleep apnea.

Final Thoughts

While we might not know definitively which condition causes the other, we do know that proper intervention can improve sleep and your overall health.

Starting with a mouth guard to address teeth grinding is a simple step to protect your teeth from damage and determine if more serious interventions are needed. Some people decide to use a CPAP machine to improve their breathing at night, which can also improve bruxism symptoms. Since CPAP machines are loud and, at times, uncomfortable, it’s typically advised to start with a mouth guard.

If you believe that you are experiencing signs of teeth grinding or sleep apnea, talk to your doctor to receive a proper diagnosis so that you can be on your way to optimal health.

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