Sleep Apnea Teeth Grinding

woman sleeping with anti snoring mask for sleep apnea

Do you often wake up feeling like you haven't slept? Do you all the time feel tired at work and you find it difficult to concentrate? And maybe your partner says you make a grinding or snoring sound during your sleep. If you are wondering why these unpleasant things happen and how you can deal with them, then this article might be helpful for you.

Sleep apnea is the disease of our time. According to a recent study, almost one in five men suffers from some form of sleep apnea or similar sleeping problems. Women are less likely to experience sleep disorder 1. It is said that only one in ten women are affected by the disease.

Sleep apnea causes repetitive pauses of breathing during sleep 2. They may last from a few seconds to a few minutes and may occur many times a night. A person who suffers from this problem often has sleep bruxism too. This is a condition that is characterized by recurrent jaw-muscle activity during sleep.

Both sleep apnea and teeth grinding are serious problems that need a doctor's attention. If left untreated, they may result in more serious health issues. You may experience them for different reasons. It is important to determine what causes your problems and find an appropriate treatment for them.

In this article, we will look in more details at what sleep apnea teeth grinding is, what are the causes of this condition as well as what is the relationship between sleep apnea and teeth grinding.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea syndrome is a condition that can stop you from breathing for a few seconds and then your brain "realizes" and wakes you up. However, in the morning you will not remember that this happened. These episodes can repeatedly occur during the night - 30, 50 or even 100 times per night. The pauses are usually due to loose muscles in the back of the throat, an oversized tongue or a small jaw that cause airway obstruction. This breathing issue normally affects the sleep patterns, your mood and your productivity during the day.

People with sleep apnea often have other symptoms such as snoring, dry mouth, headache, mood swings and so on 3.

Types of sleep disorders

There are generally two types of this condition - obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. What is the difference between both? Let's find it out.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

It is one of the most common sleep disorders. This is when you stop breathing while sleeping because of an obstruction. This is often due to loosening muscles in the throat that block the upper airflow. As a response to this suffocation, the oxygen in the blood drops and excites the brain causing a short awakening. After that, the breathing is restored. You usually don't remember it and do not even realize it happened.

Central sleep apnea (CSA)

It is less common than OSA. The difference is that central sleep apnea has a different cause than obstructive sleep apnea. With CSA, the problem is with the Respiratory Control Center in the brain. It does not send signals properly to the muscles of the respiratory system. A person who has central sleep apnea physically stop breathing for about 30 seconds to a time. This also may occur in several episodes through the night while he/she is sleeping.

What are teeth grinding?

Bruxism is repeated clenching or teeth grinding during sleep. It is believed to be a subconscious release of stress that typically occurs while you are asleep. This often causes tooth wear by damaging the tooth enamel and increase the risk of inflammation and retraction of the gums. Erasing the surfaces of the teeth makes them susceptible to caries, as their protection against the action of bacteria is impaired. Teeth grinding may occur in both adults and children.

Symptoms of teeth grinding

Some of the symptoms of bruxism during sleep include:

  • damaged teeth or broken teeth;
  • presence of tooth sensitivity;
  • headaches;
  • unexplained facial pain;
  • jaw pain, tooth pain or tight jaw muscles;
  • difficulty chewing certain foods;
  • neck aches;
  • earaches.

What is the relationship between upper airway resistance and teeth grinding?

There is a theory that asserts tooth grinding occurs as a response to increased breath pauses caused by OSA.

People with OSA very often show signs of teeth grinding and clenching. They sometimes wake up with very sore jaws or their teeth hurt. Researchers found that there is a close relationship between the occurrence of respiratory events and bruxism and sleep apnea development. Why? If you have OSA one of the ways to unblock your airway while you are sleeping is to grind your teeth. Your brain "says" that it doesn’t have enough oxygen and as a response it moves the muscles that control your lower jaw. That opens your airway and you can take a breath again. Bruxism and sleep apnea not only leads to poor quality sleep but can also harm your teeth, give you a headache, a lot of stress in the neck as well as a condition called TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) disorder. Continuous grinding of your teeth at night can also damage the tooth enamel and lead to various dental issues as well.

Risk factors for sleep bruxism

They might be related to the following factors:

  • stress and anxiety;
  • excess weight and obesity;
  • sleep disorder and insomnia;
  • abnormal bite or temporal mandibular joint disorders.

Smoking tobacco, caffeine and alcohol may also increase the risk of bruxism development 4. The presence of this condition sometimes has a genetic basis 5.

Treatments for insomnia and sleep bruxism

woman wearing cpap oral appliance during sleep for sleep apnea

The first thing you need to do is to get tested. If you have both conditions together go to your dentist who has been trained in dental sleep medicine for treating sleep bruxism. Then the dentist will test you with a home sleep test 6 that will measure whether or not you have got sleep apnea. They will also measure how much you grinding your teeth at night. Then the dentist can go ahead and work with a sleep specialist or your physician 7 in order to treat both sleep apnea and teeth grinding. Some of the approaches they may use include sleeping with a mouthguard, using a CPAP machine 8, medications, stress and anxiety management as well as lifestyle changes. The goals of these treatments are to restore breathing, relax jaw muscles, allow the air to go into the lungs without too much resistance and improve your sleep.

Sleeping with a mouthguard

mouth night guard for obstructive sleep apnea

That is a piece of plastic that is custom-fitted by a dentist. It goes over the teeth depending on patients' needs. It might cover all of the teeth or just the front of the teeth. The mouth night guard will move the jaw muscles forward so it never drops back during the night. This will prevent you from blocking the airway and improve your sleep efficiency.

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine

A type of oral appliance, this is a mask attached to a CPAP machine that provides pressurized air. It prevents your airway from collapsing. Doctors often use this treatment method for patients with OSA and bruxism 9. And although it is not a comfortable device it gives very good results.


Your health care provider may prescribe you muscles relaxant medications or anti-anxiety medications. They will help you relieve the stress that may be the cause of your problems.

Lifestyle changes, stress and anxiety management

Your doctor may suggest practising meditation, changing your sleep habits or your body position during your sleep (sleeping on the side or 30-degree sleeping elevation). People who suffer from anxiety might be advised to see a licensed therapist.

To conclude

Sleep apnea and sleep bruxism are serious conditions that might be dangerous for your health. The problem is that very few people are actually aware of them. A study has shown that OSA is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease and so on. However, it is not only associated with heart conditions, but it can also affect your mental health leading to depression, headaches or problems with concentration.

If you have any symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea or teeth grinding make sure you see a dentist or your healthcare provider and primary care physician.