An estimated 10 percent of adults and 15 percent of children grind their teeth at night. If you or your child complains of a sore jaw or tooth pain in the morning, this may be the culprit. While fairly common, grinding of the teeth, otherwise known as bruxism, is not normal. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these individuals aren’t aware they are doing it.

If left untreated, bruxism can cause tooth loss, pain and discomfort, and poor sleep in the long run. That’s because grinding your teeth could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Here are the signs and symptoms, the connection to OSA, and how to treat the condition.

Signs and Symptoms

The first thing to note is that some individuals are more likely to develop bruxism than others. This includes persons prone to high anxiety levels, stressful careers or situations, or intense emotions daily. One example is a study conducted in Europe in 2020 that found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of orofacial pain, likely due to increased stress related to finances, health, and family. In fact, the prevalence of reported symptoms of bruxism rose from about 35 percent prepandemic to around 47 percent. Daytime clenching rose from 17 to 32 percent, and nighttime grinding from 10 to 36 percent. This goes to show that stress is a significant source of bruxism.

In addition, bruxism is also common in individuals who are highly competitive, overworked, and habitually in a hurry. It is also worth noting that some medications, such as antidepressants, can increase the risk of developing bruxism. Finally, it is more common in individuals whose parents suffer from the habit and regularly engage in smoking or drinking. So, what are the signs and symptoms?

It is essential to understand that bruxism doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. While many individuals notice facial pain early in the morning, this isn’t true for everyone. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Loose teeth
  • Painful teeth
  • Cracked teeth
  • Worn teeth
  • Tense facial and jaw muscles, especially in the morning hours
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Lockjaw, TMD, or other related issues
  • Indentations on your tongue
  • Damage to the tissues inside the mouth

If you or someone you know suspects they are suffering from bruxism, it is essential to enlist the help of your dentist or healthcare provider. They will provide you with more information on the condition and possible solutions to ease your symptoms.

The Connection to OSA

OSA is a condition in which the individual affected repeatedly stops breathing during periods of sleep. It affects nearly 18 million people in the United States alone. While many conditions can cause OSA, most commonly, it is a side effect of an underdeveloped orofacial structure, i.e., the mouth and airway. Western culture—including the soft food diet, reduced breastfeeding, and mouth breathing—has made it increasingly common for individuals to suffer from a small airway, prohibiting them from getting the oxygen they need to function properly and causing disturbances in sleep.

OSA happens when these individuals, with their normal-sized tongues and small airways, suffer from obstruction, cutting off airflow, and leading to a panic response in the body. When this happens, that person can experience bruxism, as the body desperately tries to create more space in the mouth and throat. One collaborative study also concluded that sleep bruxism “may serve as a ‘reactive or protective mechanism’ against upper airway obstruction.”

Some also argue that when the tongue blocks the airway, chewing muscles must be engaged to push it back into the palette, initiating grinding and clenching. Another theory is that bruxism is the body’s response to help lubricate the throat, which is cold and dry due to mouth breathing.

Regardless, grinding your teeth is a clear indication of OSA, and the individual affected should be properly screened. If you suspect OSA, speak with your dentist or healthcare provider. They will be able to prescribe you an at-home or in-office sleep test, which will determine the diagnosis and best possible treatment plan.

How to Treat It

Dentists are the front line of screening for bruxism. They are well trained to notice the signs and ask the right questions of their patients. The good news for individuals affected is that there are several treatment options available. The most common solution is to fit the patients with a mouthguard. Constructed from a silicone or plastic material, this simple retainer-like oral appliance is worn during sleep to prevent damage and absorb the force.

Another standard option is to reduce stress during the day. This lifestyle change is essential to reducing an individual’s risk of grinding and clenching during sleep. This is also beneficial to their overall health and wellness. For individuals under extreme stress or in situations where it cannot be avoided, medication might be a good solution for helping them relax and sleep peacefully. Finally, a dentist might consider making a bite adjustment to change the way the top and bottom teeth come together and reduce the risk for bruxism.

If you or someone you know is experiencing signs and symptoms of bruxism, don’t suffer in silence. It can lead to irreversible damage and pain in the long run. Additionally, bruxism may be a sign of OSA, leading to moodiness, fatigue, heart disease, and more. It is essential to be honest with your trusted healthcare provider. They will recommend you participate in a sleep study, which will accurately diagnose your condition. From there, you can determine the best course of action to feel your best and live the life you want and deserve.

For more information on bruxism, OSA, sleep, and airway, contact us at vivoslife.com.