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You know a lot about how to protect your teeth from decay.  But did you know there are other threats to your dental health? Even if you take great care of your mouth during the day, you might not realize how you’re harming it at night.  There are three main health conditions that can cause dental problems while you sleep. Fortunately, treatments are available for each of these conditions!

Teeth Grinding

Many people clench or grind their teeth as a stress response,and some grind their teeth at night without realizing it. Teeth grinding can break down your tooth enamel and ultimately damage your teeth. Tooth grinders may find it more difficult to bite. You might also feel facial pain and headaches. To prevent nighttime teeth grinding, your dentist can give you a mouth guard. Mouth guards form a layer between your teeth, so you can’t grind your teeth together. If teeth grinding habits have damaged your teeth, dental work can correct the damage. Your dentist can place veneers to restore chipped and broken teeth and implants to replace missing teeth. But teeth grinding might be more than a stress response. Teeth grinding can indicate a more serious problem, like TMJ disorder or sleep apnea.

TMJ Disorder

Have you heard of the temporomandibular joint? Commonly known as the TMJ, this hinge connects your jaw to your skull bones. The hinge helps you move your jaw so you can talk and chew. But when you have a problem with your TMJ, you have what is known as TMJ Disorder, also known as TMD. Teeth grinding can cause TMD, but so can injuries like whiplash. When you have TMD, you might experience jaw pain, jaw clicking and popping, locked or stuck jaw, trouble opening your mouth, trouble chewing, or facial swelling. One way your dentist can treat TMD is by giving you a mouth guard to wear at night. This guard can reduce the effects of clinching and grinding. If your TMD is severe, your dentist might also treat your TMD in other ways, such as performing dental work to correct bite problems or repair damaged teeth.  Your dentist might also work to alleviate TMD by prescribing pain medications or anti-anxiety medications, stimulating your nerves to relax your joints and face muscles, or stimulating your joints to relieve pain.  In some cases a corrective surgery to unlock your jaw or realign your jaw joint may be recommended.  Let your dentist know about all your symptoms so he or she can recommend the best treatment.

Sleep Apnea

Snoring or teeth grinding may be more than just annoying habits. They may also be the sign of a serious health problem called sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea, you have trouble breathing at night. You might experience symptoms such as constant sleepiness, mood swings, depression, and difficulty sleeping. After snoring, you may stop breathing or even choke or gasp. If you suspect you have sleep apnea, you should see a sleep specialist for testing. If you have sleep apnea, a mouth guard can’t treat the root cause of your snoring or grinding. You may benefit from wearing a CPAP machine, which blows air down your throat while you sleep. If you prefer not to use a CPAP, our dentist may recommend an oral appliance as a limited alternative. The oral appliance re-positions your jaw to keep your airway open and helps you breathe at night. Even if you take great care of your mouth during the day, you might not realize how you’re harming it at night.

Caring for your teeth is one of the best ways to care for you!  The conditions listed above can pose challenges to your overall quality of life and the way your mouth and teeth feel may be a signal that it’s time to seek treatment.  If you suffer from symptoms like those listed in this blog, ask your dentist about the best course of action.