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Difference Between Bruxism and Sleep Apnea

Bruxism is when an individual has teeth clenching and grinding while asleep. Sleep apnea is when a person stops and then begins breathing several times during sleep at night.

What is Bruxism?


Bruxism is defined as the grinding of the teeth while a person is asleep and, often they also clench their teeth.

Causes and risk factors:

Teeth grinding or clenching is often because people feel anxious or stressed. Emotional distress is a common cause of bruxism, but it also happens in people who have sleep apnea or sleep paralysis. Bruxism is more likely to happen in people who suffer a lot of worry and stress.


A dentist will diagnose bruxism by examining a patient’s teeth and mouth. Patients may also show signs of temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This is dysfunction of the jaw joint from the grinding of the teeth and tightening of the face and jaw muscles. 


Patients will usually have TMJ because they are clenching their teeth at night while asleep. In bruxism, the teeth are also worn down, fillings may be loose, and parts of teeth will be chipped or broken off. The person may complain of head pain and neck or shoulder discomfort.


A person can wear a mouthguard at night to prevent any injury to the teeth due to bruxism. Since the condition is often caused by stress and other psychological factors, a person can learn to relax or, in severe cases, be medicated for anxiety disorders (if diagnosed by a psychiatrist).

What is Sleep apnea?


Sleep apnea is defined as the disorder in which a person stops breathing intermittently and then begins again during their sleep, resulting in disrupted sleep. There are two types of sleep apnea, obstructive and central. 

Causes and risk factors:

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) happens because the airway closes partly or totally for a short while during sleep. OSA is more common in people who are obese, in males, in people who smoke or drink, and who are older. Central sleep apnea is when there is a problem with the brain, often due to an injury to the brain stem. OSA is more common than central sleep apnea.


Polysomnography is done in which an individual is monitored in a controlled environment during their sleep.


People with sleep apnea feel exhausted most of the time and they usually snore when they are sleeping. They may also, at times, gasp for air during the night when their breathing stops. They often awake tired, with a dry mouth, and feel irritable and cannot concentrate well due to a lack of sleep.


Treatment depends on the causative factors. A person who drinks and smokes may be encouraged to quit, which may be helpful. Losing weight can also be useful. In some cases, using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine becomes necessary. This is a way to stop snoring or sleep apnea because it sends air under pressure into the body through a mask.

Difference between Bruxism and Sleep apnea?


Bruxism is grinding of the teeth during sleep. Sleep apnea is when a person repeatedly stops and then begins breathing while asleep.

Type of disorder

Bruxism is actually categorized as a movement disorder even though it happens in sleep. Sleep apnea is classified as a sleep disorder.


The diagnosis of bruxism is done when a dentist examines the mouth and teeth. A diagnosis of sleep apnea is done after a person sleeps in a sleep laboratory where they are monitored overnight.


The symptoms of bruxism include broken tooth fillings that have been knocked loose, and pain in the jaw and neck. The symptoms of sleep apnea are waking up tired, headache, irritability, gasping for air while asleep, and loud snoring.


The treatment for bruxism is a mouth guard and possibly anti-anxiety medicine. The treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine.

Table comparing Bruxism and Sleep apnea

Summary ofBruxism Vs. Sleep apnea

  • Bruxism is a movement disorder while sleep apnea is a sleep disorder.
  • Both sleep apnea and bruxism do occur during sleep.
  • Sleep apnea can be treated with a CPAP machine.
  • Bruxism can be treated with a mouth guard.


Is bruxism a symptom of sleep apnea?

Bruxism can be a sign of sleep apnea, as it is estimated that 25% of people with sleep apnea show signs of grinding their teeth in their sleep. However, bruxism is not always an indication of sleep apnea.

Does CPAP stop teeth grinding?

CPAP does nothing to prevent you from grinding your teeth because it is not in your mouth. It is only sending air through a mask.

Can bruxism cause breathing issues?

Bruxism can cause a problem with breathing because it involves a movement of the muscles in the mouth and jaw that can also cause a change in tongue position. The tongue can change position and block the airway during this time.

Does a mouth guard help with sleep apnea?

Certain types of mouth guards may help with sleep apnea depending on how they are designed. These are generally only the mouth guards that are custom made and specially modified for the person knowing that they have sleep apnea. A general-purpose mouth guard may do little if anything to help a person with sleep apnea.

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References :

[0]Shetty, Shilpa, et al. "Bruxism: a literature review." The Journal of Indian prosthodontic society 10.3 (2010): 141-148.

[1]Tamkin, Juliette. "Impact of airway dysfunction on dental health." Bioinformation 16.1 (2020): 26.

[2]White, David P. "Pathogenesis of obstructive and central sleep apnea." American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine 172.11 (2005): 1363-1370.

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