The noises that your loved ones make while they are sleeping may be telling you a story. Snoring and grinding of teeth are two very common sounds heard by spouses, parents, and loved ones. The National Sleep Foundation (NSL) states that snoring affects 37 million Americans on a regular basis, and multiple studies have found that 17 percent of children snore. According to a 2005 study by researchers at Children’s Hospital in Boston, more than one-third of parents reported they hear their children grind their teeth at night. The NSL reports that 8 percent of adults are heard grinding their teeth at night.

Snoring and grinding of teeth may be a sign of underlying medical problems. Snoring is typically caused by the tongue falling back creating a narrow airway as the muscles relax during sleep. However, snoring can also be signs of anatomical abnormalities of the nose and throat. Enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal polyps, fatty tissue around the neck, and deviated nasal septum can also cause narrowing of the throat during sleep. Sleep position, seasonal allergies, second-hand smoke, and some medications may also promote snoring.

The consequences of habitual snoring, defined as three or more times a week, can be serious. If sufficient oxygen is not allowed into the airway, the heart rate and blood pressure will increase to try to compensate for the deficiency. This consequence of snoring is commonly known as Sleep Disorder Breathing (SDB). Severe sleep disorders are commonly known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This systemic dynamic may cause a chain reaction of events resulting in restless sleep, fatigue, and metabolic changes. One autonomic response the body may produce to increase oxygen during sleep is the grinding of teeth, also commonly known as bruxism. The muscles of the jaw are triggered by the brain to move in various positions in attempts to open the airway. Sleep specialist and neurologist Dr. Jerald H. Simmons’s studies have found that night bruxism, or teeth grinding, helps to relieve the obstruction and promote airflow. Studies have found that people with SDB are 80 percent more likely to have associated teeth grinding at night.

Not all snoring and teeth grinding are signs of medical problems or sleep disorders, but should be evaluated by your physician and dentist. Snoring, worn teeth, morning jaw muscle soreness, restless sleep and fatigue may be a story unfolding. If you are consistently hearing your loved ones at night create unusual sounds, it may be beneficial to find out the source of the occurrence.

• Dr. Rashmi (Rush) Bhatnagar, DMD, MPH, can be contacted at (480) 598-5900 or visit

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