Teeth grinding linked to sleep apnea

Rhythmic grinding of teeth during sleep occurs at least once a week in as many as 8.2 percent of people, a new European study finds. The report also reveals that about half these people grind so much that they have jaw pain or tooth damage that requires dental work. Tooth grinding to that extent is called sleep bruxism.

While the cause of sleep bruxism is unknown, people who have it are significantly more likely than others to lead a stressful life, have anxiety or depression, smoke, ingest caffeine, or drink alcohol heavily, the study shows. An international team of researchers collected data over the telephone from 13,057 people age 15 or older in Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The study, the largest general-population survey of sleep bruxism, appears in the January Chest.

People who grind their teeth, whether or not they have jaw or tooth problems, were more likely to snore loudly and have sleep apnea, a dangerous condition in which the sleeper stops breathing for periods of time, the survey found. People with sleep bruxism also were more likely to have morning headaches and suffer from daytime sleepiness than those who didn’t grind their teeth, says study coauthor Maurice M. Ohayon, a physician at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The scientists found, too, that sleep bruxism tends to dissipate with age, affecting nearly 6 percent of people between ages 19 and 44 but only about 1 percent of those over 64.

Dentists sometimes treat grinding by supplying patients with protective mouth guards. The devices address only symptoms, not the cause of teeth grinding, Ohayon says.

While his study doesn’t clarify cause, it sets out possible remedies, such as a change in lifestyle for people with habits linked to sleep bruxism and therapy for anxiety or depression when those conditions are present, he says.

Physicians should consider teeth grinding as a signal of other more serious problems, such as sleep apnea, Ohayon says. Oral surgery can relieve some cases of sleep apnea, he notes.

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