Improving your sleep can be an uphill battle. If you’re making an effort to get more hours sleep, yet still feeling tired, there may be some crucial messages about your sleep, written in your teeth.

As a dentist, I see the signs of people who don’t sleep well all the time.

The dental signs of poor sleep include:

· Teeth grinding

· Dry mouth in the morning

· Cheek biting

· Crooked teeth

· Tongue biting

· High, inflamed palate

· Reports of snoring

These may all be signs of a syndrome called upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS). It was discovered at Stanford University in the 90s. Today, it’s still not a medically recognized syndrome, but many people suffer from UARS.

Good quality sleep is probably the most important thing you can invest in for long-term health. It’s well known that good performance needs good rest. For mental acuity and sharpness, sleep may even be more crucial than your lifestyle habits when you’re awake.

Here’s a dentist’s tip to better sleep, you need to understand how your teeth link to breathing. 

Let’s have a look at that relationship.

Quality vs quantity of sleep

If you’re increasing your sleep and not seeing benefits you could have UARS. The symptoms are a signal you’re not getting enough quality sleep. Sleep is the time you need to be delivering the body’s most important nutrient. What’s the number one nutrient?


When you go to sleep there’s one job your body needs to do to help you get good rest. You need to breathe and deliver oxygen to the brain.

Your teeth show some crucial messages on how your breathing and airways are working when you sleep.

Not many people realize it, but crooked teeth are a direct sign your airways haven’t developed properly.

When you go to sleep the muscles in your face and tongue relax. If you don’t have wide, well-developed airways, you likely don’t deliver enough oxygen to your brain during sleep.

Teeth grinding and the choking response

People with upper airway resistance syndrome often grind their teeth. The cause of teeth grinding is your brain is trying to breathe. The brain detects an increase in pressure in the airways and moves the jaw forward to prevent choking.

It’s an autonomic response, called a respiratory effort related arousals (RERAS). During a RERA, many people won’t wake up (or pause in breathing like in sleep apnea). So you may be silently choking, and not knowing it.

The problem is that during sleep, your brain relies on your breathing to regulate deep autonomic rest cycles. As you enter the deepest levels of sleep, neural cells relax to let cerebrospinal fluid rush in and clean out metabolites built up through the day. It’s a like a dishwasher that relies on you breathing the right way.

If you’re constantly being woken up, it pushes your autonomic nervous system into ‘survival mode’.

Poor breathing can damage the blood-brain barriers response, which may increase a person with sleep disorder’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep is your most crucial time to allow your brain to cleanse itself.

A functional approach to sleep and teeth

Your teeth provide some of the most crucial signs of whole body health. Functional dentistry will assess nutrition, sleep, airways and digestive health as a way to manage your entire body beginning in the mouth.

Here are 5 simple ways to get better quality sleep.

1. Nasal breathing exercises – training yourself to breathe, through your nose, with closed lips through the day can help breathing habits at night.

2. Check your vitamin D levels – the brain is covered in vitamin D receptors. Like your teeth, it’s hungry for vitamin D, if you don’t sleep well, get checked and make sure to get more sun and eat foods rich in vitamin D.

3. Tongue exercises – The tongue is a complex muscle system that connects to the base of the skull, hyoid bone, and lower jaw. If postured correctly, it holds your airways open. Practicing holding your tongue to the roof of your mouth can help keep your airways open at night.

4. Singing and voice exercises – Studies have shown that people with sleep apnea show improvements in nighttime breathing when playing the Australian Didgeridoo. Diaphragmatic voice exercises and singing can help you to use your airways in the right way to breathe at night.

5. Eat a diet for dental health – Oxygen is the number one nutrient, but your foods have a profound impact on your sleep. Reducing sugar and removing inflammatory foods helps to balance your hormones and sleep cycles. Eating for a healthy mouth and gut microbiome, bones, teeth, and gums, is the key to oral health and sleep.

In my book, ‘The Dental Diet’, we’ll explore how oxygen is the first nutrient for better sleep and whole body health. 

Your teeth give you an excellent template for optimizing your sleep. To heal your body, you need to first start with your mouth.