Your Oral Health Could Be Keeping You Up at Night

If snoring or teeth grinding is affecting your sleep, don’t ignore it any longer; it’s likely to get worse. Your dental health and sleep habits could be signaling that an underlying condition is impacting your rest, like sleep apnea — though not all snoring is a sign that something is wrong. 

About 40 percent of adult men and 24 percent of adult women snore every night. When we’re snoozing and snoring, the airflow from breathing causes the tissue in the back of our throat to vibrate. The narrower your airway is, the louder your snoring will be. 

Diagnosing sleep apnea

About half of individuals who snore also have a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is a condition where your airway becomes too narrow and closes, causing you to make more of a choking noise and wake up with a start. If you wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, have ongoing sleepiness during the day, and sleep with your mouth open, talk with your physician about a possible sleep disorder.

CPAP and dry mouth

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, a common treatment is using a positive airway pressure device (CPAP) while sleeping. This device fits over your head and nose, and may also cover the mouth. It gently blows air into your airway, helping to keep it open and avoid narrowing during sleep. 

Using a CPAP device can also affect your oral health, much like using an inhaler or taking medication for other conditions. A CPAP can cause dry mouth. Without enough saliva in your mouth, bacteria and plaque can build up in the mouth. This makes a person more vulnerable to gum disease and tooth decay.

Sleep apnea and teeth grinding

One in four patients with sleep apnea also habitually grind their teeth at night. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, can have immediate side effects like headaches and jaw pain, as well as long term side effects like temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ. This specific joint connects your jaw to your skull, and it can become injured if you continuously grind your teeth. Not everyone who grinds their teeth develops TMJ, though. 

Nighttime teeth grinding and your oral health

Another outcome of teeth grinding each night is damaged teeth. If you’re gnashing, grinding, gnawing, or clenching, you can wear down your teeth over time. It can go as far as to remove their protective enamel, crack them, or wear notches into them.

It’s important to contact your dentist or primary care physician if you experience:

  • Continued teeth grinding or clenching while you sleep.
  • Worn down tooth enamel that exposes deeper layers of the teeth or receding gum lines.
  • Increased tooth sensitivity.
  • Sleep disruption.
  • Headaches in the temples.
  • Damaged tissue on the inside of the mouth after sleeping.
  • Soreness in the jaw, neck or face after sleeping.
  • Pain similar to an earache.
  • Tight jaw muscles.
  • A locked jaw that won't open or close completely.
  • Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped or loose.

A mouth guard while sleeping can make a world of difference for a habitual teeth grinder.

Visit with your dentist and primary care physician to help you choose the right treatment for addressing oral health issues that keep you up at night.