Sleep Problems & Dental Health - What You Need to Know

Sleep Problems & Dental Health - What You Need to Know
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Sleep Problems & Dental Health - What You Need to KnowClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. How Can Teeth Affect Your Sleep?
  2. Prevention
  3. Oral Health from Lack of Sleep
  4. Sleep Apnea
  5. Health Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep
  6. References

You might not intuitively link lack of sleep with dental problems, but the two things are inherently connected. A chronic lack of sleep can lead to a variety of overall issues with the body, and one of them in is poor dental health.

People who suffer from a sleep disorder often try to rest with their mouth open, which leads to dry mouth. Dry mouth negatively affects the amount of saliva in the mouth. Saliva is a natural way of killing unwanted bacteria on teeth and gums.

Following well-established guidelines to maintain your oral health is the easiest (and most cost-effective) way to keep your teeth and gums free of disease. From the sleep end, it pays to investigate any issues that cause you not to get a good night’s rest consistently. That includes breathing problems, heavy snoring, etc.

How Can Teeth Affect Your Sleep?

About 50 to 70 million American adults have a sleeping disorder. Oral health issues such as dry mouth, teeth pain, teeth-grinding and canker sores can be causes of this debilitating nighttime restlessness.

  • Teeth pain and inflammation: even the mildest cases of a toothache can cause minor sleep awakenings, reducing the quality of sleep. Inflammation will contribute to toothache or discomfort.
  • Dry mouth: mouth breathing, strongly associated with snoring, will lead to dry mouth and increase chances of tooth decay that will cause discomfort that disrupts healthy sleeping patterns.
  • Canker sores: anxiety and stress can cause canker sores to appear inside your mouth, an uncomfortable condition that will interfere with sleeping.
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism): the action of grinding the teeth causes headaches, earaches, bite marks in the jaw muscles, and other symptoms that affect sleep quality.

General Good Oral Hygiene Can Prevent These Issues

Basic oral hygiene can prevent sleep disorders. First, ask your doctor to recommend dental products that moisturize your mouth or change those that cause dry mouth. You can also use medication that stimulates saliva production.

Brush your teeth after every meal and floss at least once a day to remove the bits of food from between your teeth. The longer these small pieces of food stay in your mouth the more bacteria they create. Bacteria buildup is one of the primary causes of periodontal and gum diseases.

Another option is fluoride trays, something that you’ll need to have your dentist fit you with. You wear these trays in your mouth (they cover your teeth) at night to prevent cavities. You can also control cavities through weekly chlorhexidine rinses.

The dentist might recommend a dental mouthpiece to minimize clenching and grinding.

Oral Health from Lack of Sleep

While oral health issues can affect sleep, the reverse is also true. The most common sleeping disorder is sleep apnea, affecting about 3 to 7 percent of men and 2 to 5 percent of women in the United States. Sleep apnea can cause the following oral health issues:

  • Dry mouth and periodontal disease. Your body will naturally reduce its saliva production when it senses a dip in airflow because of mouth breathing. Saliva deprivation shrinks and dries mouth tissue, increasing exposure of the upper and lower gums to bacteria. That also minimizes washing away of food and acids, both of which make for a fertile area for periodontal disease.
  • Teeth grinding. Some researchers believe that grinding of teeth during sleep is a reflex action because of the reduced airflow. Teeth grinding, called bruxism, causes your lower jaw to move forward, increasing airflow. Bruxism also wears away the enamel on your teeth.
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. The TMJ is the joint where your lower and upper jaws meet. This joint allows you to move your mouth, and it’s crucial for talking and eating. But apnea can cause TMJ disorders, including locked jaw and problems during eating.
  • Weakened immune system. Depriving your body of adequate sleep causes excess inflammatory hormones that worsen gum disease.

Sleep Apnea

It’s a sleep disorder that causes your breathing to stop and start repeatedly, resulting in tiredness during the day and loud snoring. Left untreated, it can lead to severe health conditions such as heart and blood pressure issues.

The most common sign of sleep apnea is chronic, loud snoring. Other symptoms include morning headaches, dry mouth, sore throat, and daytime drowsiness.

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Central sleep apnea happens when your brain doesn’t communicate with the breathing muscles.
  • The most common is obstructive sleep apnea caused by throat muscle relaxation.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome occurs when you have both of the above conditions. It’s also referred to as treatment-emergent central sleep apnea.

If you have a mild case of sleep apnea, lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and losing weight should help treat it. Moderate to severe cases will require continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP), or adaptive servo-ventilation (ASV) machines to keep your airway passages open and prevent snoring.

Alternatively, you could try a mouth guard that prevents teeth grinding, or treat neuromuscular or heart disorders that might cause apnea, or utilize supplemental oxygen, especially if you have central apnea.

If all fails, surgery to restructure your jaw problems will do the trick.

Health Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

A good night’s sleep is how the body heals itself and prepares itself for long-term survival. Rest is restorative, and it provides innumerable benefits. The biggest are:

  • Improved memory function
  • Improved immunity
  • Increased productivity and creativity
  • Stress management
  • Weight maintenance

Improved Memory Function

Your body will be resting while you sleep, but your mind will be hard at work processing the day’s memories. It would be best to have adequate sleep to complete the process successfully. Otherwise, the worst-case scenario is that you might create false memories.

Boosted Immunity

Enough sleep will not only aid in responding to vaccines better, but it also enhances the abilities of your T cells to attach to and destroy bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. Further, it boosts your innate and adaptive immune responses and helps your body react less severely to allergies.

Increased Productivity and Creativity

A good night’s rest helps you focus and function better at work. As seen above, sleep assists in the tying up of the memories and forming the necessary neural connections. That way, you can remember better what you learned or experienced.

Stress Management

Regular sleep patterns calm you and restore your body. A well-rested body means it can regulate mood better and improves judgment and decision-making. Additionally, you can handle stress better.

Weight Gain Preventative

Sure, a full eight hours of sleep isn’t quite at the level of exercise, but it can help prevent piling on the pounds. When you’re up and about, your body produces fewer hormones that signal your body to eat and produce energy for normal functioning. Moreover, you have a slower metabolism when you haven’t slept for a while, a recipe for weight gain.


Sleep apnea - Overview. (July 2020). Mayo Clinic.

Recognizing Poor Sleep Quality Factors During Oral Health Evaluations. (June 2019). National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Dry mouth - Diagnosis. (July 2020). Mayo Clinic.

The Connection between Insomnia and Dental Problems. (Retrieved October 2021). American Academy of Medical Orthodontics.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.