In medicine, the standard is to treat the cause not just the symptoms. If doctors solely focus on treating their patient’s symptoms, their patients suffer as our body uses symptoms like pain to tell ourselves something is wrong and needs to be fixed. So, like medical doctors, dentists should do the same. Unfortunately, many dentists don’t do this when it comes to one of the most potentially life-threatening symptoms they come across, teeth grinding (or bruxism). Of course, grinding your teeth at night will not kill you, but the grinding is just the symptom, not the cause. The cause is something much more serious, breathing problems (or sleep Apnea) which could be life threatening.
As it turns out, new research indicates that our brain stimulates the grinding response when we stop breathing at night. The grinding motion pushes the jaw forward, reopening the airways for resumed breathing. This indicates that teeth grinding is a symptom and/or red flag for sleep apnea.
Mouth Guard Health Dangers
The standard treatment for those who present themselves to a dentist with teeth grinding are usually given a night guard (a mouthpiece that protects your teeth from the grinding which can damage the enamel and/or even crack your teeth). While this does help to protect your teeth, this does not protect you from the dangerous underlying problem…not breathing.
What your dentist should do, and you should do, is to have a sleep test performed to determine the extent of your breathing issues at night. It may turn out you need a CPAP machine to help blow air down your trachea. Or you may need a oral appliance, which is similar to a night guard, but is intended to push your jaw forward to induce better breathing as opposed to simply protecting your teeth.
The main point is that teeth grinding is a indicator of a bigger problem, a potentially serious one. If you wear a mouth guard for teeth grinding, or your dentist is about to prescribe you one, ask your dentist what the root cause of the disorder is. If need be contact your primary care physician and/or set up an appointment with a sleep specialist.