Mouth Health: Not Getting A Good Night's Sleep? Maybe It's Your Teeth...

04/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Let's face it: there aren't many things more troublesome than not getting a good night's sleep.

Now, right off the bat, we're not talking about insomnia here - that's a whole different ballgame. What we're discussing is a person who can fall asleep, but for some reason, does not get that deep, restful "delta phase" sleep that we all need. These people seem ok on the surface - after all, they are sleeping. But they always seem to feel tired, and they always look tired.

There are a multitude of instances that can prevent someone from getting the type of sleep their bodies crave. This article will discuss one of the more overlooked causes - teeth grinding, otherwise known as "Bruxism".

There are several factors associated with teeth grinding. Other than stress (which is a big cause), Bruxism can also be caused by dental abnormalities, such as crooked or missing teeth, an improperly aligned or abnormal bite, the condition temporomandibular joint disorder (more commonly known as "TMJ"), or even a tender jaw.

Of all the issues associated with teeth grinding, one of the more notable problems associated with grinding one's teeth is that it often happens at a time when a person is least aware of it: During sleep. The person literally doesn't know they grind their teeth. And this teeth grinding can be very disruptive to good sleep.

Let's take a look at sleep - especially deep sleep - and see how Bruxism can affect it:

In humans, there are different levels of sleep activity, known as stages. Each stage has a different level of mental (and physical) activity and reaction time. The deepest stage of sleep is Stage 3 sleep, which is also known as the "Delta" phase of sleep. This stage is when a person reacts more slowly to outside stimulus, has difficulty waking up, etc - it's really deep sleep.

Delta Phase sleep is also the stage where our muscles are supposed to be totally relaxed. In fact, the two tie together. The muscles being relaxed are one of the conditions of Delta Phase sleep. If your muscles are not relaxed, Delta Phase Sleep is nearly impossible to achieve.

Now, think about teeth grinding. Teeth grinding means jaw clenching, grinding, rubbing, and the like. Go ahead - grind your teeth and clench your jaw right now - I'll wait... how's that feel? Anything BUT relaxed, right?

So, let's draw a quick logical conclusion - there's a phase of sleep (Delta phase) that requires muscles to be relaxed (muscles relaxed being one the core definitions of the sleep stage). Yet, those who suffer from Bruxism don't have relaxed muscles. Thus, people suffering from Bruxism get little to no Delta Phase sleep.

And, as we've already mentioned, Delta Phase sleep is the most restful, deepest phase of sleep. If you're not getting some deep, restorative Delta Phase sleep every night, you're going to feel tired and un-rested.

Ah-HA!!! So maybe that's why you're feeling tired all the time... you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep, and you don't even know it.

So now that we've established grinding teeth during sleep isn't so good, let's look at how Bruxism occurs:

Teeth grinding can be caused by such factors such as anxiety, response to a particular stimulus, or a person enduring an extended period of stress. That high-pressure day at the office carries over into a person's intended relaxation time, including sleep.

Despite its subtle nature, there are multiple ways to detect if a person has Bruxism. One of the easiest ways is by having someone sleep close to the affected person. While not an extremely loud symptom, a loved one or roommate can hear an affected person clench or grind their teeth during their sleep.

Ultimately, a dentist will be able to give the best prognosis of a person grinding their teeth, and can provide the best solution. While there is no one single cure for Bruxism, there are several alternatives available to help alleviate the symptoms.

These treatments range from using a mouth guard, restorative or reconstructive surgery, or even scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist or therapist in order to deal with and alleviate the factors that cause stress. This part can include changes to daily life, like introducing exercise, a comfortable bath, a change in diet, or relaxing music into a daily routine. This can help greatly to reduce stress.

So let's wrap this post up.... If you're feeling tired or just like you aren't getting "proper" sleep, the cause very well could be Bruxism. If you want to find out for sure, have a loved one or partner check as you are sleeping. And if indeed that is the case, well, now you can tackle the problem head (or tooth) on!