Sleep Apnea and Tooth Grinding

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Many patients who visit your office each day experience bruxism and it’s clear that they grind their teeth. It may be evident with wear facets forming, or it may be in the beginning stages where the patient experiences headaches upon waking or other TMJ symptoms. Bruxism is usually treated with the patient wearing a night guard of either hard or soft plastic material. However, studies now show that tooth grinding at night may be closely linked to sleep apnea with the treatment involving a CPAP machine.

Although the reason for bruxism is unknown, many factors seem to contribute to the condition. These factors include alcohol, smoking, stress, caffeine, fatigue, and sleep apnea. It’s estimated that eight percent of the general adult population experience bruxism and most are Caucasian males. So, what’s the link between clenching and grinding and sleep apnea?

There are two types of sleep apnea. Today’s focus will be on Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) because it’s linked to bruxism. OSA is the most common type of sleep apnea and is caused by airway blockage when the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapses.

When the soft tissue collapses, the body fights to keep the airway open thus repositioning the jaw and grinding the teeth. This scenario happens over and over during the night as a defense mechanism with the body trying to keep the blood oxygenated.

By treating the patient with an occlusal guard, you may be overlooking the real cause of the grinding, and this could be detrimental to the patient. The next time you evaluate a patient with bruxism, consider having the patient consult with their primary care physician to see if a sleep study is in order. Not only will you save their teeth, but you may also save their life.

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