Nocturnal teeth grinding/clenching (“bruxism”) may indicate a sleeping disorder

Teeth clenching and/or grinding during sleep (a phenomenon known as “bruxism”) is a common problem. Some people are aware they do this because they wake up with headaches, jaw pain, lock jaw, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. Others know about it because their bed partners hear them making grinding noises with their teeth during the night. Still others discover it because their dentists (or sleep doctors) note it. The common treatment for this in dental medicine is to wear a bite guard. These dental devices create a buffer zone between the upper and lower teeth to protect against enamel wear and reduce the strain on the TMJ.

Unfortunately, bite guards do not treat the underlying condition. Traditionally, patients have been told their bruxism is a byproduct of stress, a response mechanism to waking during the night, or that the cause is unknown. As I wrote in 2013 for the Huffington Post, we now understand the reason why many patients suffer from this condition: it is due to changes in airflow during sleep.

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