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A Healthy Choice
For Dental Care

man sleeping with night guardHow much sleep do you get each night? Did you know that it might affect your teeth?

A recent Korean study found that sleeping too little or too much meant more tooth loss than among those who slept 6 to 8 hours nightly. It also meant more diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and periodontitis.

All of these are conditions that raise the risk of tooth loss.

Even after excluding individuals with those conditions, the link between sleep duration and tooth loss remained. Likewise, it remained after adjusting for age, sex, smoking, drinking, walking, frequency of toothbrushing, BMI, and gum disease.

This suggests that an additional link may be at work here.

Of course, the study does have its limitations. For one, it wasn’t able to distinguish between cause and effect. As the authors note,

It is not certain whether it is the sleep affecting the tooth loss or it is the tooth loss causing the sleep issues.

Nor did they take sleep quality into account – a factor that is just as important as the amount of sleep you get. One especially common reason for poor sleep? Nighttime teeth grinding, a/k/a bruxing – something many folks aren’t even aware they’re doing until a lot of damage has already been done.

worn down teethMost people think that tooth grinding is caused by anxiety or stress, and there is no question that such factors can make it worse. Often, however, the root cause is actually a dental or airway issue. Misaligned or missing teeth can cause bruxing, as can an airway that’s too small – a condition that lends itself to obstructive sleep apnea. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 25% of those with OSA also grind their teeth at night.

How do you know if you’re bruxing? One sure sign is if you wake up with sore jaws or a dull headache in the morning. A bed partner may notice you doing it or hear the noise of your teeth repeatedly making contact.

Failing this, the only sign may be the damage that it does to your teeth. Long-time biological dentist Dr. Gary Verigin offers a good description of what we see in addition to the biting surfaces appearing worn down:

People who clench their teeth rather than grind usually will display other characteristics. Those who display compression of the teeth generally show wedge-shaped defects at the neck of the tooth where the root meets the crown – a stress-vulnerable area. This is because, as the teeth are compressed, minute particles of tooth structure break away. (The technical term for this is abfraction.) We also commonly see dimples on the biting surfaces of the back teeth. Their highly polished appearance – along with the formation of tori (bumps of bone) in the palate – is the result of the piezoelectric effect. When the teeth and bone are compressed, both negative and positive electricity is generated. Negative ions are said to stimulate bone growth. However, in areas of high stress, positive ions are emitted, and these carry particles of tooth structure with them. This phenomenon may be the reason why some people complain of a metallic taste in their mouths even though they do not have any metal fillings in their teeth.

In severe cases, some clench hard enough to actually rearrange the molecules of dental materials in their mouths, forming wavy lines on the teeth like those on a washboard. Sometimes this can happen even in natural teeth.

Ultimately, bruxing can also result in cracked or loose teeth, even tooth loss. It may also contribute to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ disorder or TMD) and the headaches, jaw/face/neck pain, and other symptoms that define it.

If you think you may be grinding your teeth, talk with a well-trained biological dentist who can help identify and treat the root cause. In the interim, you can be fitted with a mouth guard to wear during sleep to help protect your teeth from the grinding.

Top image by Justin Hall