From Sleep Apnoea to Teeth-Grinding: Sleep-Related Dental Issues Explained

Many of us experience sleepless nights for various reasons. Maybe it’s due to an unsettled child, the dog next door who won’t stop barking or your partner watching the tv too loudly. However, did you know that there are specific sleep-related dental issues that might explain why you’re so exhausted?

If there’s no apparent cause for why you’re so tired, and the GP has ruled everything out that they can test for, it might actually come down to your teeth. Read on for more information about sleep-related dental issues. 

Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is an extremely common sleep disorder affecting an estimated 2.5 million Australians, or 10% of the population. It is characterised by repeated breathing interruptions (apnoeas) during sleep cycles. This is caused by tissue collapses in the airway, which can be due to weak airway muscles, a large tongue, being overweight and other risk factors that mean that oxygen is prevented from reaching the lungs.

Common symptoms of sleep apnoea

If you’re starting to suspect that sleep apnoea may be a cause of your fatigue, here are some of the warning signs to look for:

  • Reduced and absent breathing
  • Frequent and loud snoring
  • Gasping for air whilst sleeping
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
  • Decreases in attention and concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Dry mouth and headaches when waking up
  • Waking up frequently during the night to use the bathroom

There are plenty more, but these are some of the most commonly reported symptoms.

How does it affect my oral health?  

Unfortunately, sleep apnoea comes hand-in-hand with some oral health problems. These can include:

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders

TMJ is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the upper jaw (you have one on each side of your face). Some people can develop a TMJ disorder. Symptoms of this disorder include jaw pain, pain throughout the head, neck and shoulders, chewing problems, jaw joints that make clicking or grinding sounds and a locked jaw (the inability to open or close your mouth for a period of time).


This is a fancy word for teeth-grinding or clenching that frequently occurs during sleep. It can leave you waking up feeling unrefreshed, along with headaches and neck and jaw pain. Symptoms of bruxism include loose teeth, eroded tooth surfaces or other tooth damage. 


Mouth-breathing due to sleep apnoea can lead to a few oral health issues. Breathing with your mouth open leads to a dry mouth which can bring on things like tooth decay, plaque, mouth sores, gingivitis and periodontal disease. 

Teeth-grinding (sleep bruxism)

Another common sleep-related dental issue is teeth-grinding – or sleep bruxism. This refers to unconsciously grinding, gnashing, or clenching your teeth in your sleep. This can happen when you’re awake but is referred to as “awake bruxism”.

Common symptoms of sleep bruxism

If you’re worried about sleep bruxism, here are a few symptoms to look out for.

  • Teeth grinding or clenching at night, which may be loud enough to wake someone sleeping next to you.
  • Flattened, fractured, chipped or loose teeth.
  • Deeper layers of your teeth are exposed due to worn tooth enamel.
  • Increased tooth pain or sensitivity.
  • Tired or tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely.
  • Pain or soreness in the jaw, neck, or face.
  • Pain that feels like an earache, but it’s not a problem with your ear.
  • Dull headaches starting in your temples.
  • Damage on the inside of your cheek from chewing.
  • Disturbed sleep.

How does it affect my oral health?

Sleep bruxism can negatively impact your oral health and significantly affect your teeth. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to discuss them with your dental professional. If you notice these symptoms in your child, let their dentist know at the next check-up.

Sleep deprivation

Believe it or not, sleep deprivation (or insomnia) is another factor that can impact your oral health. While it’s normal to have a few sleepless nights, those who develop insomnia or chronic sleep deprivation are at risk for several conditions. Many people who suffer from insomnia often get up in the middle of the night for a snack or drink, which can negatively impact oral health. Another one of the main issues is periodontitis. Periodontitis is a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue in your gums and destroys the bones that support your teeth. Without treatment, it can lead to significant issues like tooth loss.

Common symptoms of periodontitis

If you’re struggling with sleep and are anxious about developing periodontitis, here are some things to look out for.

  • Gums that:
    • Are puffy or swollen
    • Are bright red, dusky red or purplish
    • Bleed easily
    • Feel tender when touched
    • That pull away from your teeth
  • Having a pink-tinged toothbrush after brushing
  • Spitting out blood when brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Teeth becoming loose
  • Pain while chewing
  • Developing new spaces between your teeth
  • A change in how your teeth fit together when you bite

How does it affect my oral health?  

Periodontitis can cause damage to the soft tissue in your gums and destroy the bone supporting your teeth seeking dental treatment if you notice symptoms will give you the best chance to treat it before it causes irreversible damage. 

Preparing for a good night’s sleep for you (and your teeth!)  

Your bedtime routine can have a significant impact on your overall oral hygiene. Making sure you’re practising good oral hygiene before you go to sleep means that you’re doing your bit to look after your teeth overnight and decrease your chance of sleep-related dental issues.

To best look after your whole mouth before bed and during the night, here is what we recommend:

  1. Don’t eat late at night.
  2. Brush thoroughly before bed.
  3. Remember to floss!
  4. Rinse with mouthwash.
  5. Ask your dentist about using a night guard.

To learn more, read our blog on oral hygiene.

Sleep-related dental issues can lead to some significant health problems. Things like sleep apnoea, insomnia (or sleep deprivation) and sleep bruxism (teeth-grinding) are common problems that affect people while sleeping. If you or your children experience any of the symptoms listed in this blog or are concerned by something unusual, be sure to book an appointment with one of our friendly team members.

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