Commonly known as teeth grinding, bruxism can significantly impact our sleeping patterns and be harmful to our health.
“The whole purpose of sleep is to rest and repair our bodies,” Dr Lewis Ehrlich from the Sydney Holistic Dental Centre says. “When the teeth meet in an aggressive way, so much energy is expended. Therefore, our sleep quality is reduced and people will often wake up feeling unrefreshed.”
Other symptoms include brain fog, headaches, neck and jaw pain and anxiety, as well as sensitive, broken or worn-down teeth. And while stress is often the cause, poor tooth alignment, bad posture, drug use, and even dehydration can also make us susceptible.
“Bruxism is also a classic sign that a person is not breathing well at night,” Dr Lewis adds.
“We are meant to sleep with our tongue at the roof of our mouths and we should be breathing through our nose. If we begin to mouth-breathe, our tongue can drop down the back of the throat and partially or completely block our airway.”
Similar to the choking response, this sends a message to our brains to pull the jaw forward, open up the throat and clench the teeth together. But the problem is, most of us don’t even realise we’re doing it.
“Complete prevention is tricky to attain however there are many management techniques, such as relaxation, magnesium supplementation, physiotherapy particularly around the muscles of the head, neck and jaw, regular exercise, and Epsom salt baths,” Dr. Lewis advises. “Sometimes a night guard is also needed to protect the teeth from wear and fracture as well as assist with keeping the airway clear.”
Interestingly, diet can also significantly affect our nocturnal habits.
As disordered breathing conditions are often linked to craniofacial growth problems, the risk of teeth grinding can be greatly reduced by strengthening the jaw with raw, tough foods.
"Avoiding highly processed, inflammatory foods such as refined sugars is always a good idea,” Dr Lewis says. “Natural foods that are hard are always best for the teeth, gums and strength of the jaws.”