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Are Sleep Apnea and Teeth Grinding Related?

  • sleep apnea
9 min read
by Dylan Hao |

Key takeaways: Sleep apnea and bruxism are often concurrent and research is finding that sleep apnea is a risk factor for bruxism

Solution: A night guard is often the recommended treatment for both disorders

Does your sleeping partner complain about your snoring? Or do you find yourself waking up with headaches and neck pain? Are your teeth more sensitive than they’ve ever been?

Any of these signs on their own are irritating. Together, they’re a warning that you might have a sleep disorder, like bruxism or sleep apnea.

Bruxism, often called teeth grinding, happens when you clench your jaw and grind your teeth in your sleep.

Sleep apnea (also written as sleep apnoea) happens nocturnally, too, but is mainly noticeable due to the snoring and stop-and-start breathing that comes with it.

The two conditions are different, but with many similarities that link them together. You don’t have to have one if you have the other, but you may.

Here, we’ll explain each of these sleep problems and how they’re related to each other, as well as how you can treat them to prevent further damage to your overall health.

1. Understanding Bruxism and Sleep Apnea

On the surface, bruxism and sleep apnea seem like two distinctly different problems. Teeth grinding is annoying but no big deal, right? And sleep apnea is just a lot of snoring, irritating to your partner, yet, ultimately, not anything to worry about.

Um, not exactly.

Both of these conditions may start out as minor, but they can lead to some serious damage. Let’s take a look at the symptoms, causes, and risk factors of each.

Bruxism Explained

The medical definition of bruxism is “a problem in which you unconsciously grind or clench your teeth.” There are two types: awake bruxism and sleep bruxism.

The symptoms of bruxism vary in signs and severity. Awake bruxism tends to have fewer serious consequences, mostly because you’re conscious and alert to the grinding before it can get too painful.

Sleep bruxism occurs when you’re unconscious and unaware of what you’re doing. During nighttime teeth grinding, you can’t stop your jaws from clenching down with the bite force of an angry Tasmanian devil (200 PSI). But you sure feel the effects in the morning and over time!

Symptoms of Bruxism

Signs that you may be putting extra pressure on your teeth and jaw include:

  • Eroded teeth enamel
  • Cracks or chips in your teeth
  • Teeth sensitivity
  • Pain in the facial muscles
  • Discomfort in the jaw muscles
  • Morning and ongoing headaches

Without early intervention, bruxism can lead to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) locking (popping) and even jaw dislocation. The erosion of your teeth enamel may become so severe that your tooth roots are exposed — a very painful problem.

Causes of Bruxism

So what causes all of these issues, and how can you stop yourself from grinding if you’re asleep?

A custom-fit nightguard, like those from JS Dental Lab, is an effective way to reduce the damage, but fixing bruxism means getting down to the cause of your grinding.

Currently, researchers cite the main causes of this condition as stress and/or personality types. If you’re chronically nervous, anxious, angry, or frustrated, your body may take out the extra cortisol — aka, the stress hormone — through actions like clenching and grinding.

If your personality tends to be more aggressive or competitive, you’re more prone to bruxing. However, the problem could stem from an imbalance in your brain’s neurotransmitters or come from certain medications you’re taking.

Talk to your doctor or dentist for an official diagnosis and understanding of why you may be a bruxer. They’ll look for signs of grinding and clenching and help you determine how to stop the problem for good. Most of the time, bruxism is successfully resolved.

Do your teeth sit correctly? Find out — read How Your Teeth Are Supposed to Fit

Sleep Apnea Explained

Your bed partner complains that your snoring is interfering with their restful sleep, and you both laugh it off. Well, it might be no laughing matter.

If the snoring is due to obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSA), this sleep disorder is definitely dangerous and potentially life-threatening. When you have OSA, your breathing is inconsistent while you’re asleep. It stops and starts in stutters, and your tongue can roll back and get “stuck” in your throat, blocking the upper airway and reducing airflow to your lungs.

While OSA is the most common, there are other types of sleep apnea.

Central sleep apnea (CSA) happens when the muscles that control your breathing aren’t receiving the proper signals from your brain.

Treatment-emergent sleep apnea happens when an OSA patient’s symptoms transition into those of the CSA patient during treatment.

Symptoms and Risk Factors of Sleep Apnea

The symptoms of these sleep disorders are similar, including:

  • Loud and aggressive snoring
  • Episodes of stopped breathing during sleep (as reported by others or recorded in a sleep study)
  • Gasping for air
  • Dry mouth and/or morning headaches upon awakening
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Moodiness
  • Trouble focusing

Alone, these symptoms could be one of the hundreds of other conditions. Together, you have a full picture that leads to the diagnosis of sleep apnea. Left untreated, it could lead to serious health issues.

Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you think you may have sleep apnea.

Anyone, even children, is at risk of sleep apnea. However, certain risk factors, such as obesity, thicker neck circumferences, and narrowed airways, increase the possibility of having this condition. It’s also more common in men and older individuals.

If you have a family history of sleep apnea, use alcohol, tobacco, sedatives, or tranquilizers, or already have high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, you may be at more risk.

Related: Easing the Effects of Nighttime Anxiety

2. How Bruxism and Sleep Apnea Are Linked


The simplest link between bruxism and sleep apnea is that they both fall under the category of sleep disorders. However, the connection between the two conditions becomes stronger as you delve into the details.

Researchers have long thought that obstructive sleep apnea could be a risk factor for sleep bruxism. New studies show this theory is based on fact.

The research connected the two by examining measurable behaviors in the sleep patterns of participants with sleep disorders. Results showed a direct link between the number of apnea and hypopnea episodes (or arousals) and the frequency of bruxing activities.

In other words, those in the study who had mild or moderate OSA were more likely to also have symptoms of bruxism. Importantly, the findings also proved that males, specifically those with diabetes, are more likely to have OSA and bruxism.

Connecting the Dots and Coming Up With New Risk Factors

While we know the risk factors for sleep apnea pretty well, before new research, those that could lead to bruxism were muggy.

It’s hard to give a numerical gauge of stress and personality types and decide, “Yes, you’re a candidate for bruxism.” But now, doctors can ask a patient if they have sleep apnea and use that information to determine if a bruxism diagnosis is likely.

Expanding from there and knowing that diabetes and sleep apnea are linked, we can also add that condition as a risk factor. This helps doctors monitor their patients with untreated diabetes for signs of sleep bruxism.

3. Treating Teeth Grinding Versus Sleep Apnea Treatments

Understanding the risk factors and causes can help a person prevent teeth grinding and sleep apnea.

But how can you treat if you’ve already been diagnosed with one or both conditions?

Teeth grinding involves the jaw muscles and teeth, while sleep apnea uses the mouth muscles and airway. In some ways, the treatments overlap, while in others, they’re unique to the condition.

Treatment for Bruxism

Chances are, your doctor or dentist will recommend some natural methods to help you reduce your grinding and clenching. Better oral health and sleep routines are the foundational methods to reduce stress and decrease damage to your mouth.

You can also benefit from a night guard from JS Dental Lab to keep your upper and lower jaw from connecting. When your teeth can’t get the traction they need to grind, your muscles stay relaxed and your enamel is safe.

If none of these more natural treatment options correct the problem, further therapy will depend on your overall health and history. Examples of bruxer fixes include:

  • Exercises to learn how to properly place your tongue, teeth, and lips when at rest.
  • Biofeedback to measure the muscle activity in your mouth and jaw. This uses an electronic instrument to measure how tense your muscles get, signaling you when there’s too much activity. (This is best for awake bruxers.)
  • Medication to help regulate the hormone imbalance caused by your neurotransmitters.
  • Techniques from a mental health provider to relieve stress and anxiety.

With help, your bruxism behaviors can go away permanently — or, at least until they’re triggered again by something in the future. But now, you’ll know how to recognize the signs before they’re too severe, and how to handle those symptoms.

Treatment for Sleep Apnea

As with bruxism, the treatments recommended for your sleep apnea condition depend on your health, medical history, and the severity of the sleep disorder.

Once you’re diagnosed with a form of sleep apnea, your doctor will likely suggest a CPAP machine fitting. CPAP is short for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and the machine keeps your airways open while it pushes oxygen into your mouth and lungs.

Although CPAPs are extremely common, they’re not for everyone. Some people think the machines are uncomfortable or they trigger claustrophobic tendencies.

Other oral appliances, like a specially designed night guard, can still keep your throat open without covering your face. They bring your jaw forward, keeping your tongue in place and reducing snoring.

When oral devices don’t work, you may be prescribed medication to help lose weight and reduce pressure on your organs, improving complications like heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and diabetes.

Sometimes, meds to help you stay awake during the day are provided. Sleep medicine can improve your quality of rest. These are usually benzodiazepines or barbiturates, making them next-to-last resorts.

The last resort would be surgery to change the jaw shape or amount of tissue in the mouth and prevent breathing obstructions.

4. Catching the Warning Signs to Prevent Teeth Grinding and Sleep Apnea


As with many serious health conditions, your body sends you warnings that there’s a problem.

If you pay attention and recognize the signs, you might be able to prevent bruxism and sleep apnea altogether.

How to Prevent Grinding

Advancements in the field of dentistry help correct jaw pain and muscle discomfort, but it’s so much better if the problem doesn’t get that far in the first place!

Preventing bruxism means getting to know yourself and your habits. Aside from understanding any medical conditions that may be out of your control, the first place to start is to manage your stress.

If you’re dealing with issues in your daily life, consider talking to a mental health counselor or trusted advisor. Take walks and get some exercise in to balance those stress hormones we talked about. Journal, meditate, and find other ways to minimize your stress level.

We completely realize this will be a work in progress for everyone. In the meantime, contact JS Dental Lab to see how a night guard can help you reduce the damage from grinding. Your jaw and muscles might still be trying to clench and grind, but the guard will keep that from happening!

How to Prevent Sleep Apnea

Sleep disordered breathing conditions like sleep apnea are a little trickier to prevent. Because they’re triggered by risk factors that you gain over time, like obesity or diabetes, the best way to prevent them is to live a healthy lifestyle.

If you think OSA is in your future, getting to and maintaining a healthy weight for your body type and age is important. Quit (or at least cut back) on habits like consuming alcohol and smoking.

Exercise regularly, and try not to sleep on your back. Prop your head with pillows if you are a back sleeper.

Never take sedatives, including anti-anxiety or sleeping meds, without talking to your doctor first. These are dangerous if you already have the risk factors of a sleep disorder that affects your breathing.

Related: How to Relax Your Jaw


Sleep-related bruxism and sleep apnea may sound like two different diagnoses, but they’re related in many ways.

The good news is that the treatment could be as simple as a custom-fit night guard from JS Dental Lab to relieve your grinding and keep your throat muscles from working too hard.

You want to prevent serious health problems. Your partner wants to sleep better without your snoring and grinding noises disturbing them. Why not give JS Dental Lab’s high-quality professional oral appliances a try for a winning solution? Learn more about how our appliances work here.

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