Do you ever go into your child’s bedroom at night hoping to hear the sweet sounds of easy breathing but instead hear the harsh sounds of gnashing and grinding teeth? The sounds, which are caused by bruxism, can be alarming and concerning.
Should you be worried? Do you need to bring your child to the dentist immediately?
The truth is that bruxism can be quite common in kids. And most outgrow it by the time their permanent teeth come in.
But there are times treatment is warranted. Keep reading to find out what Dr. David Markham at Markham Orthodontics has to say about children who grind their teeth.
Why is my child grinding his teeth?
The medical term for teeth grinding and jaw clenching is bruxism. Experts estimate that approximately 20-30 percent of children have bruxism. It usually occurs during deep sleep phases, but some children grind away all night or even during the day.
Most kids who grind their teeth don’t even realize they are doing it. Usually, it is the parents or siblings who identify it by hearing them grinding their teeth.
With some patients, coming up with a reason for their bruxism can be difficult. But there are known contributors to consider.
Common causes of grinding teeth in children include:
- Misaligned teeth can increase the risk of bruxism.
- Stress—especially anger or nervous tension. Children are sensitive to their surroundings, and things like starting a new school, worrying over grades, changes in routine, parents going through a divorce, or fighting with a friend or siblings can bring on bruxism.
- Response to pain. Just like people tend to rub sore muscles, sometimes children grind their teeth to ease the pain of teething or an earache.
- Hyperactivity or a competitive, aggressive, or “Type A” personality.
- Certain medical conditions or medications. Some conditions are linked to bruxism, such as GERD, cerebral palsy, night terrors, and epilepsy.
What are the possible negative effects of grinding teeth?
Again, most children grow out of bruxism by the time their permanent teeth come in. However, there can be negative effects that may warrant treatment.
If your child has any of the following, you may want an evaluation for possible treatment:
- Cracked or chipped teeth
- Facial or jaw pain
- Frequent headaches or earaches
- Overly sensitive teeth
- Clicking or popping in the temporomandibular joint
- Locking of the jaw
- Wear to tooth enamel
- Soft tissue damage, such as the inside of the cheek
What is the treatment for a child who is grinding their teeth?
If the cause is related to stress, tension, anger, or fear, sometimes the parents can help alleviate this by talking with their child. When children receive reassurances and know they can talk about their feelings and concerns, and that their parents hear them and want to help, it can work wonders.
If related to hyperactivity or an aggressive, competitive, or “Type A” personality, a relaxing bedtime routine may help. Consider a warm bubble bath, reading a book, or listening to soothing music right before bed.
In more extreme cases, children may need professional help. This may include treatment such as counseling or biofeedback.
If the above measures don’t help and your child experiences damaged teeth, facial or jaw pain, or frequent headaches or earaches, your dentist may prescribe a nightguard to protect the teeth and keep them from grinding.
The night guard is similar to a protective mouthpiece athletes wear, but it is customized to mold to your child’s teeth. It can take some getting used to, but most children who wear them regularly find it harder to sleep without it than with it. And positive results can happen quickly.
If Your Child is Grinding His Teeth
Even though most children outgrow bruxism, the wisest choice is a thorough dental evaluation to determine the extent of damage and discuss treatment options.