Teeth Grinding May Be A Sign Of A Serious Health Condition Lurking Beneath The Surface

“…in an epidemiological study…it was found that…obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was the highest risk factor for tooth grinding during sleep.”

One of my patients, a young man in his early thirties, came in to see me with a few concerns. He was grinding his teeth at night (confirmed by his girlfriend). He was experiencing some jaw pain. And his teeth were showing some wear.

His concerns prompted a few questions from me which uncovered additional symptoms. He snored quite often (again confirmed by his girlfriend). And he reported “feeling tired all the time”.

Studies show a connection between teeth grinding and sleep disorders

My patient was surprised to hear that his teeth grinding might be connected to an airway issue.

“Several studies have reported that sleep bruxism rarely occurs in isolation. Recently, in an epidemiological study of sleep bruxism and risk factors in the general population, it was found that among the associated sleep symptoms and disorders obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) was the highest risk factor for tooth grinding during sleep.”

“The results of this study suggest that when sleep bruxism is related to apnea/hypopneas, the successful treatment of these breathing abnormalities may eliminate bruxism during sleep.”

At this point, I suspected my patient had a common underlying problem. This young man most likely had an airway issue. But the only way to find out and get a proper diagnosis was to complete a sleep study. Today, sleep studies can be done at home or in a lab / sleep center (this version requires an overnight stay).

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It's important to have signs and symptoms of a potential sleep breathing disorder evaluated by a knowledgeable healthcare professional.

His sleep study confirmed my suspicion

We got the sleep study done and it came back with a clear diagnosis. He had sleep apnea.

In this young man’s case, he wanted to treat with an oral appliance. Many patients prefer the oral appliance option (as opposed to a CPAP) because it tends to be more comfortable and just easier to deal with.

What does this oral appliance actually do?

The oral appliance moves the jaw down and forward while you sleep, which opens up the airway. Here’s an analogy I like to use.

Think about your airway as a straw. And let’s say you’re drinking a milkshake with a straw that is too small. What happens? It collapses when you suck on it. That’s essentially what happens when your airway is too small and your body is trying to force air through it. It collapses. So essentially what we’re trying to do is make the “straw” bigger.

Sleep disorders affect the whole body

This patient had a few medical issues (besides the sleep apnea) with the primary issue being high blood pressure. Studies show a strong connection between sleep apnea and high blood pressure (a.k.a. hypertension).

“There is an emerging recognition of the association of this disorder with metabolic abnormalities, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and hypertension [high blood pressure]. Of these conditions, the data associating obstructive sleep apnea [OSA] and hypertension are the most compelling.”

“OSA is a risk factor for the development of hypertension. Approximately 50% of those with sleep apnea have hypertension. In fact, elevated blood pressure might be the only clue that a person has OSA. Fortunately, treatment of OSA may result in better control or even resolution of hypertension.”

Treating his sleep apnea and high blood pressure

In situations like this, especially when they’re under the care of a physician and on a blood pressure medication, we don’t request they get off, or change, their medications.

What we do is start treating their airway right away. We then go through our protocols and monitor them. Soon after, working with their physician, we assess if their blood pressure is more under control. If so, their dose will often be lowered (which also lowers the medications’ side effects). And in some cases, they’re able to get off blood pressure medications completely.

Get Evaluated

It's important to have signs and symptoms of a potential sleep breathing disorder evaluated by a knowledgeable healthcare professional.

Everything is connected

Part of that result is connected to lifestyle changes as well. One of the things that happens with people that have sleep apnea and high blood pressure is they tend to be overweight. And the ability to control weight happens to be another sign of an airway issue. So if we can get them treated, get their airway stable and healthy, then we can start working on the other things as well. Everything is connected. We don’t ignore one because we’re treating the other.


He had a lightbulb moment

We were able to explain how the dots connected and clarify the cascade of effects he was experiencing. For him, it became a lightbulb moment when he saw the interlink of everything that was going on in his life. He now understood that they were not separate issues.

Our body is a singular unit and things work together in unison. If one of those things is out of whack, it affects the whole system.


The need for quality sleep cannot be overemphasized

Sleep is one of the most important things in our lives because when we go to sleep and fully rest, it allows our body to completely reset.

Our bodies have two basic modes. “Fight or flight” mode or “rest and digest” mode. When you’re sleeping, you want to be in that relaxing rest and digest mode.

Sleep disorders put your body into that fight or flight mode multiple times a night. And when that happens, you are not giving your body the chance to heal and recover—mentally or physically.

If you look at professional athletes, a lot of research has gone into their sleep. Recovery for athletes is nothing more than proper rest, plain and simple.

“…accumulating evidence suggests that increased sleep duration and improved sleep quality in athletes are associated with improved performance and competitive success.”5

To put it simply, quality sleep is a must if you want to thrive as a human being.


Dentists are in a great position to detect sleep disorders

Like anything in life, we only have a finite amount of time. My focus, and dentists in general, is the head and neck area, specifically the oral cavity / mouth.

In general medicine, they have to look at the entire body. I have the ability to focus on one small region of the body that’s directly connected to breathing.

How are they developing? How are they breathing through their nose and mouth? How are they swallowing? I am looking at what’s happening in that whole region, not just their teeth.


How’s my patient doing?

I just had a followup with him last week (at the time of this writing) and asked him how things were going. He is feeling better overall. And he is feeling much more rested. But the thing he noticed the most was this. His girlfriend is no longer elbowing him in the middle of the night to stop his loud snoring. She’s happier, which means he’s happier.

We were able to connect the dots for him and reveal his underlying issue. Putting it all together like we did is something he says he will never forget.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, please don’t ignore it. Come see us.

The best way to get started with me is to request a virtual exam. All you have to do is go to the website and submit your information and any questions you may have. We’ll contact you and set up a time to discuss what’s going on and how best we can help you.

Get Evaluated

It's important to have signs and symptoms of a potential sleep breathing disorder evaluated by a knowledgeable healthcare professional.

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