Do you often wake up with headaches and a sore jaw? You may be grinding your teeth in your sleep without knowing it.
Teeth grinding, known as bruxism, also can cause unusual wear patterns on your teeth that your dentist may notice. Sometimes family members notice bruxism because the noise keeps them up at night.
“Teeth grinding doesn’t always cause dental problems so it’s best to let your dentist know if you’re waking up with headaches and jaw pain,” said Dr. Aaron Mertz, a Marshfield Clinic dentist. “Those are the telltale signs.”
Sleep apnea can cause teeth grinding
Headaches and jaw pain caused by bruxism may be annoying but they usually aren’t serious. However, teeth grinding may signal a more serious condition: sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway collapses during sleep. Teeth grinding is one of the body’s unconscious ways of trying to reopen the airway. Sleep apnea is a serious health problem that can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, stroke and heart failure.
“In some cases managing sleep apnea can treat bruxism,” Mertz said.
In children, it’s important to check for enlarged tonsils that can block the airway.
Teeth or jaw alignment problems, stress, anxiety, acid reflux, and heavy smoking, alcohol or caffeine use also can cause bruxism.
Some people grind their teeth during the day, but it’s more common at night.
Teeth clenching: A related problem
Teeth clenching can cause headaches and jaw pain just like grinding.
“You’ll probably notice symptoms at the end of the day because clenching is more likely to happen while you’re awake,” Mertz said.
Clenching usually is caused by stress. You may not notice you’re doing it, but you can reduce symptoms by reminding yourself to relax your jaw during the day.
Four solutions for grinding and clenching
These tips may help you stop grinding and clenching your teeth or relieve discomfort.
- Treat the underlying cause. You may need to get treated for sleep apnea or tonsillitis, manage stress, quit using tobacco or cut back on caffeine and alcohol to stop grinding your teeth.
- Wear night guards or oral appliances. Your dentist can make a custom night guard that distributes the force of grinding away from your jaw joint to help reduce pain, headaches and dental problems. Night splints and oral appliances can help reposition your jaw to prevent grinding.
- Remind yourself to stop daytime clenching. Use cues that remind you to relax your jaw, like wearing a rubber band around your wrist or setting reminders on your phone.
- Take ibuprofen. Medication won’t prevent grinding and clenching, but it can relieve pain, inflammation and headaches.
If you think you grind or clench your teeth, schedule an appointment with a Marshfield Clinic dentist.