If you grind your teeth when you sleep, you might have been told that there’s not much you can do about it besides wear a night guard. But while a guard can certainly protect your teeth, it does nothing to address the cause or get to the root problem.

Over the years, different theories regarding the causes of bruxism have been proposed and debated, from stress to misaligned teeth. However, Airway Focused Dentists are starting to realize that many cases are due to Sleep Disordered Breathing and Obstructive Sleep Apnea and that you wake repeatedly through the night whenever your airway becomes blocked and your brain isn’t receiving the oxygen it needs and requires.

If you’re overweight, it could be excess tissue around the top of the trachea that falls back as you relax. For many, though, it can be the consequence of narrow dental arches that don’t provide enough room in the mouth to comfortably contain the tongue. As you relax, your lower jaw can slide back, pulling the tongue back with it to block the airway.

What does this have to do with bruxism?

As Houston sleep medicine specialist Jerald H. Simmons has noted, teeth grinding may in fact be “a response to protect the airway in situations where there is a vulnerability towards airway collapse.” The movement is an attempt to unblock the airway in order to open your airway so you can breathe freely again.