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Teeth Grinding and Children


When parents check in on their sleeping child, the grinding sound of teeth is not what they expect to hear.  While it may be a bit unsettling for parents, it’s not uncommon. 

The medical term for this condition is called bruxism and 2 to 3 out of every 10 kids will grind their teeth or clench their jaws during sleep, according to experts.

Bruxism often occurs during deep sleep phases or when kids are under stress.

None knows for 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 an earache or teething. 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.

Children under stress may also grind their teeth or clench their jaw. Worry over a test or a change in routine can be released through teeth grinding during sleep. More serious family problems or being the recipient of bullying can prompt bruxism. Some kids who are hyperactive also have bruxism. And sometimes kids with other medical conditions (such as cerebral palsy) or who take certain medicines can develop bruxism.

The suspected reasons are many.

The effects of undetected teeth grinding can vary as well. Sometimes, kids have little or no effect from light teeth grinding.  However, other children may experience headaches or earaches. In some cases, nighttime grinding and clenching can wear down tooth enamel, chip teeth, increase temperature sensitivity, and cause severe facial pain and jaw problems, such as temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ).  Most kids who grind, however, don't have TMJ problems unless their grinding and clenching happen a lot.

Most of the time kids aren’t aware that they are grinding their teeth. A sibling or parent usually discovers it.

What should you do if your child has bruxism? You can talk with pediatrician about it and a visit to the dentist is a good idea. Your dentist can check for chipped enamel and unusual wear and tear on your child’s teeth as well as misaligned teeth.

Most children will outgrow bruxism, but a combination of parental observation and dental visits can help keep the problem in check until they do.

If your child’s grinding and clenching is caused by, or is causing, a dental problem, the dentist may prescribe a special mouth guard that is worn at night. It looks similar to protective mouthpieces worn by athletes. While it may take a little time to get used to, positive results typically happen quickly.

For bruxism that's caused by stress, ask about what's upsetting your child and find a way to help. For example, a kid who is worried about being away from home for a first camping trip might need reassurance that mom or dad will be nearby if needed.

If the issue is more complicated, such as moving to a new town, discuss your child's concerns and try to ease any fears. Talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned that your child may need professional help with discussing what is bothering him or her.

In rare cases, basic stress relievers aren't enough to stop bruxism. If your child has trouble sleeping or is acting differently than usual, your dentist or doctor may suggest further evaluation. This can help find the cause of the stress and a proper course of treatment.

Because some bruxism is a child's natural reaction to growth and development, most cases can't be prevented. Stress-induced bruxism can be avoided, though. So talk with kids regularly about their feelings and help them deal with stress. Taking kids for routine dental visits can help find and treat bruxism.

Story source: Kenneth H. Hirsch, DDS,


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