If you are clenching your teeth at night, you might blame many different problems. Perhaps you have stress at work or at home. Maybe you have bad dreams. Perhaps you suspect jaw problems. However, there is one crucial cause of nighttime teeth clenching, also called sleep bruxism, that needs investigating: sleep apnea.
How Sleep Apnea and Sleep Bruxism Are Connected
Our jaw and teeth perform an essential role in supporting and bracing our airway. During the day, your teeth normally clamp together to anchor the throat when we swallow. At night, the jaw performs a similar function.
But when your jaw doesn’t seem to be doing its job, and your airway collapses, your body responds by clamping the teeth together to stabilize the airway and keep it open for breathing.
Research has largely confirmed this association. It’s been shown that people with sleep apnea are significantly more likely to have sleep bruxism. Although only about 8% of the general population suffers from bruxism, more than 25% of sleep apnea sufferers have bruxism. This varies among ethnic groups, with caucasians having a much higher chance than other ethnicities (35% compared to only 19% for other ethnicities).
Researchers have also confirmed that bruxism typically follows an apneic event. After your breathing stops, it’s typically less than 30 seconds before your teeth clench. This is probably your body trying to prevent a recurrence, but, eventually your jaw relaxes and your apnea recurs.
How to Know You’re Clenching Your Teeth at Night
As with sleep apnea, sleep bruxism can be hard to detect. If someone shares your bed, they might hear the clenching or grinding. Most likely, you will notice that you wake up with a sore jaw, a headache, or sore teeth. If it persists, you might see damage to your teeth.
If you suspect a sleep problem like sleep apnea or sleep bruxism, it’s important to talk to your doctor.