Are You Grinding Your Way to Sleep Apnea?

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For the study, researchers interviewed randomly selected participants by phone. The people were asked about their sleeping habits, sleeping problems, mental health problems, and general questions about their lifestyle.

The researchers found that grinding or clenching teeth during sleep on a weekly basis affected about one in 10 people in the study. More than half of those with tooth grinding said they had some problem related to the condition, and about one-quarter of them said their teeth grinding was loud enough for their bed partner to hear. One-quarter also said they needed some dental work as a result of their nocturnal activity.

Although teeth grinding is considered primarily a dental problem, it also is classified as a sleep disorder, says Alon Y. Avidan, MD, MPH. He says type A personalities and perfectionists make up a significant percentage of teeth grinders. And most teeth grinders are born, not made, meaning they start out grinding in childhood and continue the behavior as they age.

Avidan, who is clinical assistant professor of neurology at the Michael S. Aldrich Sleep Disorders Laboratory at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, agrees that talking to your doctor is essential. Teeth grinding can be diagnosed by your doctor asking you specific questions or in a sleep laboratory, if needed.

Once diagnosed, teeth grinding can be treated in a number of ways.

These can include reducing your intake of alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine, all of which were associated with higher likelihood of teeth grinding in the study. Reducing anxiety and stress also can be helpful since it appears that those conditions play a role in increasing the frequency of teeth grinding. Finally, many patients are given dental guards to wear while they sleep to hold their jaw muscles still and prevent the rhythmic activity that causes the teeth to grind together.

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