Dr. Aarthi Raghavan, DMD

Bruxism – an early sign of sleep breathing disorder

What is bruxism? Bruxism is the medical term given to excessive DYS-functional (not a part of normal function) grinding, clenching etc. Bruxism can happen in two circadian phases- when it happens at night it is termed as Sleep Bruxism. The excessive dysfunction during the day is called awake bruxism or daytime Bruxism.

Bruxism or grinding can start as early as in children. In Fact, it is usually the first tell-tale sign that a child may be experiencing improper or inadequate breathing during his/ her sleep consequently affecting the quality of their sleep as well as their overall health and well being, including physical and brain growth (Yes ! Sleep has an important function in a child’s growth).

The direct impact of bruxism results in wear down or fracturing of healthy teeth, excessive display of gums (to compensate for the worn teeth) and eventually results in pain in the facial muscles, TMJ clicking and other TMJ disorders. Vitamin D levels and Ferritin (the storage form of iron in our body) have a direct correlation to the intensity of sleep Bruxism. It is also believed to happen as a direct consequence of the body struggling to fix its Oxygen issues, thereby pushing the jaws forward to open the airway up to breathe better.

Many children suffering from bruxism also have other signs including elongated growth pattern of the face (called adenoid facies), excessive display of gums, enlarged adenoids, frequent allergies and respiratory infections, difficulty with feeding as infants, usually secondary to a tongue tie, aversion to textures of food, bed wetting, sleep walking and difficulty focusing in school or other behavioral issues.

 It is hence important to identify the bruxism early on to save both the teeth as well as a child’s overall health.

Adult sleep bruxism is also usually the first and only sign of a potentially serious sleep breathing disorder like Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This also more often than not is combined with excessive daytime sleepiness, caffeine dependence, frequent headaches etc. Unfortunately, many dental clinicians who are unaware of the health aspect of the disease, only see the teeth breaking down or wearing down and hence try to protect their patient’s dentition and prescribe a night time guard. This often worsens the issue since it takes away more space from the tongue which is already fighting for space and hence falling back further into the throat – CAUSING THE OBSTRUCTIVE SLEEP APNEA.

Many patients tell me about how they “absolutely cannot tolerate the night guard”. That usually tells me a lot about the oral dysfunction between the tongue and the surrounding muscles, and how that could be contributing to airway and breathing issues during sleep.

If a child or adult you know suffers from any of the issues above, it is imperative that they are evaluated by a specialist trained to evaluate these conditions. Our office is here to help, precisely in helping our patients with a thorough evaluation and timely diagnosis and treatment. Our mission is not just saving smiles but to help our patients with their overall health and wellness and we are uniquely poised to be able to do just that.

As a gentle reminder, we will be closed for holidays between December 24th and January 2nd.

We wish you all a healthy and happy holiday season, Merry Christmas and a happy New year !”

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