Are you guilty of teeth grinding? If you wake up in the morning with sensitive teeth, or tight jaw muscles, the answer is probably yes. You’re not alone, though – it’s estimated that at least 10% of adults grind their teeth at night.
A teeth grinding habit (also known as bruxism) can lead to broken teeth, enamel damage and headaches. But it can also indicate a secret sleep disorder that you might not know you have: sleep apnoea.
What is sleep apnoea?
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a serious condition that occurs when your throat muscles relax too much in the night. The walls of your airway stick together, and your breathing can completely stop for around 10-30 seconds at a time. Symptoms of OSA include: snoring, gasping or choking noises, insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Nearly 1 in 4 people with sleep apnoea grind their teeth at night – and it’s thought that men are more likely to be affected.
So why do people grind their teeth?
Teeth grinding can happen as a defence against sleep apnoea. When the muscles in your throat relax, your tongue becomes less tense, and it can fall towards the back of your airway. Your lower jaw also tends to relax along with the rest of your facial muscles. Because your tongue is anchored to your lower jaw, it helps pull your tongue back even further towards your throat. If your airway is already naturally narrow, this can seriously affect your ability to breathe properly.
And this is where grinding your teeth comes in.
A way to defend against your airway blocking is to clench your teeth together. This action will hold your lower jaw in place to try and help keep your airway clear. But teeth grinding isn’t always effective, and you could be risking your health.
How do I fix it?
Luckily, managing sleep apnoea can help stop your night time teeth grinding. Many causes of sleep apnoea (like weight gain, smoking and drinking) can be fixed with some lifestyle changes.
An anti-snoring oral device (similar to a dental guard) can also help stop the damage caused by teeth grinding. These devices work by gently holding your jaw in the correct position while you sleep, opening your airway and helping you breathe. Just about anyone with mild to moderate sleep apnoea can use them, and many sufferers find them helpful in treating their condition. You can find more information about the Snoreeze oral device here.
For severe sleep apnoea, the most common treatment method is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure device (a CPAP machine). This mask, which fits over the nose during sleep, uses air pressure to keep airway passages open, helping to prevent sleep apnoea (as well as snoring, which often accompanies the disorder).
If you suspect you might be suffering from sleep apnoea, try and visit your doctor as soon as possible. They can recommend the treatment that’s best for your needs, and you can get back the peaceful night’s sleep you deserve.