Coffee Stains and Teeth Grinding: Early Warning Signs of Adrenal Fatigue?

If you're teeth grinder who loves their coffee, it could be that your coffee habit is a bandaid for larger health issues. Here, I cover the coffee paradox and what to do if you're a grinder who loves their coffee.

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Coffee Stains and Teeth Grinding: Early Warning Signs of Adrenal Fatigue?

This post is my response to a great podcast episode, “Is Drinking Coffee Good For You?” by Chris Kresser, who by the way, is extremely analytical and knowledgeable about so many things regarding whole body health and has a must-listen podcast that I highly recommend subscribing to. I’m very picky about which podcasts I subscribe to, but Chris’ is one of the best.

This episode discusses how coffee is a “gray area” food — meaning that scientific research suggests that coffee is beneficial when it’s well tolerated by the individual, but it’s not always well tolerated. This really resonated with what I see in my patients on a daily basis in my practice (which I’ll get to in a bit).

The thing that really resonated the most about the episode is this:

People that need coffee are the ones that shouldn’t be drinking it because it is a bandaid for a deeper issue.

The Coffee Paradox

coffee must make you sleepy

We drink coffee because we’re tired and need a boost, but the reality is that coffee makes us more tired due to its effects on the adrenal gland.

If you drink coffee and, later in the day, your energy crashes, you might think you need more coffee, but the crash is often a sign that the coffee is messing with your adrenal function.

The important thing is to pay attention to your individual response to coffee. It depends on how much you can tolerate. If you’re doing well with coffee, you should feel good with a natural boost, not jittery and wired.

For people who tolerate coffee well, there is lots of research that shows that coffee is beneficial to health, potentially because it’s loaded with phytochemicals and antioxidants.

If you have one cup a day and you find that to be enough, you’re probably doing well with tolerating coffee.

But if you have a cup of coffee and afterwards, find yourself craving another, this could be a sign of another issue in the body.

Coffee Dependence and Bruxism as Indicators for Sleep Apnea

As a dentist, when I look in someone’s mouth and I see coffee staining as well as the effects of teeth grinding, my radar goes up.

Consider this:

1. Grinding of the teeth can be used as an indicator for sleep apnea. Brain scans of people with sleep apnea indicate that grinding the teeth is associated with the end of the pause in breathing, meaning that grinding is the thing we do when we sleep in order to restore the airway and breathe again after it has collapsed or has been obstructed, pausing our breathing.

2. Coffee dependence can signal adrenal fatigue. If you depend on coffee to get the energy and focus you need to make it through the day, this could be a sign that your adrenal gland is fatigued. In people with sleep apnea, the adrenal gland is overworked from producing the adrenaline needed — the fight and will to survive — each night during episodes of paused breathing due to a collapsed airway.

The two things that stain the teeth the most are coffee and tobacco, both of which are stimulants to the muscles, so they make you grind your teeth more often and more intensely.

It’s all connected.

The Teeth Grinding and Adrenal Fatigue Connection

It’s a vicious cycle:

You’re grinding your teeth at night to reopen a collapsing airway.

You wake up in the morning without having gotten the restorative benefits of deep sleep, so you need coffee to feel sharper and more awake.

The caffeine fires up the muscles, which makes you a better grinder and causes further damage to your teeth.

If you’re grinding your teeth and are a big coffee drinker, I’d recommend reconsidering coffee: Is it a pleasurable morning drink? Or is a stimulant you depend on to help you get through the day?

If the latter, talk to your dentist and ask about whether you grind or clench your teeth and, if so, request a sleep study from your primary care physician.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Read Next: What to Eat—And What to Avoid—to Heal Cavities Naturally

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  1. My husband is a bruxer and has a problem of sleep apnea plus loud snoring. I will say it’s hereditary as he acquired these traits from his parents. He drinks 2-3 cups of coffee a day but I don’t think for keeping awake or active. He just likes coffee. Now my son who is only 5 has acquired the trait of night grinding. I am quiet worried because of this. Thinking of starting a night guard at an early age to prevent damage to the permanent dentition.

    Any suggestions are welcome

    • Annie, as you may have guessed, the grinding is genetic. Like father like son. But not in the way you think. It’s the small airway that is genetic and it’s the small airway that’s the culprit for the grinding. We grind to reopen our airway at night when it collapses during sleep. From what I see, I would say the coffee is probably a method to get energy because the adrenal glands are used all night long to keep your husband alive. Next, his thyroid may have issues. If I were him, I would get worked up for sleep apnea and thyroid and the doctor may actually recommend no more coffee. In regards to your son, since his jaw structure is developing and growing, he will not be able to use a night guard until that development stops — typically around age 16. Usually that is soon enough to start protecting the teeth, but again, have his airway checked well before that to find out if his small airway is the culprit of the grinding. Fix the airway, and your son will not only stop grinding but also treat a much more serious condition, which is sleep apnea.

  2. Hi Dr. Burhenne,

    I have had chronic fatigue and sleep issues (unrefreshing sleep) for a long time, along with bruxism, gum recession and associated mild anxiety / depression. I am 34 now. I had a sleep study done recently, which came back completely normal with a very low AHI of 0.7, but a high AI (Arousals Index) of 18.8. I’m not a snorer apparently, and my wife never hears me grind my teeth or gasp for air. I have been examined and told that I have an airway issue by a great dentist in Washington, and my dad has sleep apnea. I have been examined by various dentists, many of whom have said I have bruxism wear evident on the teeth and obvious recession. I am currently doing oral myofunctional therapy and something called an ALF appliance to widen my jaw. Any guidance you can offer me would be very welcome. Cheers.

  3. I enjoy what you guys are usually up too. This type of clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the great works guys I’ve added you guys to my own blogroll.

  4. Hi Dr. Burhenne,

    I have been having severe pain on left side of my face, facial burning, ear stuffiness, neck pain. Slight jaw pain. I had an M R I done to check tmj joints are fine no arthritis. Did s complete brain scan, all ok. Complete blood test, o.k. I have had 4 night guard made, none has helped at all. Tried muscle relaxants, no good. I have a headache on left side, my lips sometimes burn. I can open my jaw all the way. My teeth do not hurt. But everyday it feels as though somebody hit me with a baseball bat. I have gerd but controlled by medication. Been to quite a few doctors with 2 years of ongoing pain. Any suggestions

  5. Hello dr.Bruhenne
    My 4 year old daughter has started grinding her teeth.I observed this recently.My concern is she started having a little bit of coffee everyday from almost a month now along with her grandparents. I am a dental assistant. I am really worried. Is caffeine making her doing this.could you please suggest me how can I handle this in early stage.please doctor

  6. It never occurred to me that the combination of teeth grinding and coffee could turn into a vicious cycle. I feel like if you had concerns about the effect either of those things had on your teeth, it’s probably a sign to talk with a dentist. Good oral health seems like it comes from being proactive and not waiting until something is noticeably wrong.

    • Becca, thank you, glad you found this helpful. And yes, you say it so well—being proactive is the name of the game.

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