Why is my Child grinding his/her Teeth?

When we put our kids to bed, we would like them to have sweet dreams and breathe easily; however, this is not always the case.

Grinding/ bruxism

Bruxism is the medical term for the grinding of teeth or the clenching of jaws. Many kids have it 3 out of every ten will grind or clench, but most outgrow it. Bruxism often happens during deep sleep phases or when kids are under stress.

Sometimes grinding teeth can be both painful and harmful for your children.

Causes of Bruxism

Experts aren’t always sure why bruxism happens. In some cases, kids may grind because the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly.

Others do it as a response to pain, such as from teething or an earache. Kids might grind their teeth as a way to ease the pain, just as they might rub a sore muscle. Many kids outgrow these fairly common causes for grinding.

Stress, usually nervous tension or anger, is another cause.

For instance, a child might worry about a test at school or a change in routine. Even arguing with parents and siblings can cause enough stress to prompt teeth grinding or jaw clenching.

Some hyperactive kids also have bruxism. And sometimes kids with other medical conditions (such as Autism or Cerebral Palsy or who take certain medicines can develop bruxism.

How to Know if Your Child is Grinding

Sometimes, identifying a child that grinds teeth is as simple as checking in while he or she is asleep. At other times, you may not be able to identify the grinding problem readily. A few of the most common symptoms associated with grinding teeth include:

  • grinding or clenching of the jaw (in some cases it may be more subtle; in others, it may be loud enough that you can hear it)
  • Teeth that are worn down
  • Complaints of sensitive teeth
  • Pain or tightness in the jaw muscles, or an earache or other jaw pain
  • Frequent unexplained headaches

In most cases, if your children are grinding their teeth, they will do it at night. If the teeth grinding is a result of excessive amounts of stress, it may also happen during the day.

Some of the most common reasons children grind their teeth involve:

  • Improper alignment of top and bottom teeth
  • As a response to pain, especially for tooth, jaw, or gum pain
  • Excessive stress, tension, or anger

Treatment Options for grinding

In many cases, as mentioned above, children will grow out of grinding as their permanent teeth begin to erupt, replacing the baby teeth.

If your child grinds his or her teeth more frequently, or you begin to notice significant damage, it may be more severe and need to be addressed before it causes more permanent pain or problems.

In some cases, your dentist may recommend that your child wears a protective mouthguard to prevent grinding, or work with a therapist or other specialist to develop an awareness of the grinding.

If the grinding is caused by stress or anxiety, it may be helpful for you to sit down and talk to your child each day about how she is feeling, and why, to help her work through the stress.

Teeth grinding can be a painful, problematic condition for some children. Most kids who grind, however, don’t have TMJ problems unless their grinding and clenching happen a lot or continues as they get older.

However, a combination of parental vigilance and frequent visits for regular checkups to the Dentist can help.

If you are concerned that your child may be grinding his or her teeth, and it could cause permanent damage before the child grows out of it, make an appointment with a dentist to talk about strategies for dealing with grinding/bruxism, and ways for you to help your child.

If the damage is found, the Dentist may ask your child a few questions, such as:

  • How do you feel before bed?
  • Are you worried about anything at home or school?
  • Are you angry with someone?
  • What do you do before bed?

The exam will help the dentist see whether the cause is anatomical (misaligned teeth) or psychological (stress) and come up with an effective treatment plan.

Help your child stop

To put an end to teeth grinding, it can be helpful to identify the root cause. Multiple factors can lead to bruxism, including stress, anxiety, hyperactivity, reactions to medication, teeth misalignment and any source of pain such as growing pains, injuries, incoming teeth, and more. Kids often stop grinding their teeth when these factors dissipate or when their adult teeth grow in. Some, though, maintain the habit into adolescence.

If this happens to your child, you have several options. Your child’s dentist may recommend a nightguard to protect teeth in cases where bruxism is causing damage. You can try an over the counter guard first they are $30-60. They are more of a rubbery material; if your child grinds through it, you will need to see a dentist. The Dentist makes a guard that is a hard plastic and is more protective of the teeth and harder to grind through. Dental coverage for night guards commonly referred to as “occlusal guards” varies, so check your plan to learn if they’re covered. They cost around $120-400 because they are custom and made by a lab.

Watch out for common indicators of stress like behavior shifts, sleep difficulties and changes in appetite. If your kid’s teeth grinding is a result of stress, try to identify and address the stressors by discussing it directly with your child. Additionally, you can help with a few soothing steps around naptime and bedtime.

  • Avoid giving your child caffeine, especially before going to bed.
    • Designate 10 to 30 minutes to establish a consistent routine. This could include calming activities like reading a book or listening to relaxing music.
    • Turn off electronics to give your child adequate time to wind down and prepare for sleep. The National Sleep Foundation suggests a curfew for digital devices of 30 minutes to two hours before naptime or bedtime.

By knowing what to look for and working with your child’s dentist, you can help your kids stop grinding their teeth and get back to a peaceful sleep.

Resources

1WebMD, Dental Health and Teeth Grinding (Bruxism), https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/teeth-grinding-bruxism#2

2National Sleep Foundation, Teeth Grinding, https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/bruxism-and-sleep

 

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