Last updated, July 2017
When a child is sleeping, you expect to hear him/her breathing easily, and perhaps an occasional sigh. However, instead of these, you may be hearing the sounds of gnashing or grinding teeth. This grinding of teeth in children is known as bruxism. The condition is common in many children.
The medical term of the grinding or gnashing of teeth or the clenching of jaws is bruxism. Teeth grinding in children is common in many families. Its estimated that about 30 percent of children grind teeth. However, majority of them outgrow the condition.
Kids usually grind teeth when under stress or during deep sleep phases.
Causes of Bruxism in Children
Medical experts are not certain why some children grind their teeth. Sometimes, the grinding may be due to misalignment of the top and bottom teeth. In other cases, the grinding may be due to a response to pain, such as from teething or an earache. Grinding the teeth may be a way of easing the pain, just like they may rub a sore muscle. In most cases, kids outgrow these common causes of grinding.
Another cause of teeth grinding in children is stress- usually anger o nervous tension. For example, a child may worry about a change in routine (a new teacher or a new sibling) or a test in school. Sometimes, arguments with parents and siblings can also cause enough stress that will lead to jaw clenching or teeth grinding.
Bruxism is also common among children that are hyperactive. The condition can also be manifested among children that take certain medicines or those with certain conditions (for example, cerebral palsy).
Effects of Bruxism on Teeth
Some cases of bruxism may be undetected but lead to no ill effects. However, others can cause headaches. However, teeth grinding is usually more bothersome to other family members because of the grinding sound.
In some serious cases, nighttime grinding and clenching can cause severe facial pain, increase temperature sensitivity, chip teeth, wear down tooth enamel and lead to jaw problems such as temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ). However, TMJ only occurs in severe teeth grinding cases. Most kids who grind their teeth do not have TMJ problems.
How to Diagnose Bruxism
Majority of children that grind their teeth are not even aware of it. In most cases, it is their parents or siblings that identify the problems. Below are some signs you should watch out from in your child:
- Pain when chewing
- Complaints of a sore face or jaw after waking up in the morning
- You hear grinding noises when the child is sleeping
You should take your child to a TMJ dentist when you hear him/her grinding the teeth. The dentist with examine the childs teeth for unusual wear and tear or chipped enamel. The teeth will also be sprayed with water to check for unusual sensitivity.
If the teeth are found to have some damage, the doctor may ask your child a few questions such as:
- What do you do before going to bed?
- Are you feeling angry about anything or with someone?
- Are you worried about anything at home or in school?
- How do you usually feel when you go to bed?
After carrying out the exam, the dentist can determine the teeth grinding is caused by stress (psychological) or misaligned teeth (anatomical) problems. The dentist will then come up with an effective treatment depending on the cause of the grinding.
How to Treat Bruxism
Majority of children stop grinding teeth as they grow up. However, a combination of parental observation and dental visits can help to keep the problem in check.
If the grinding damages the teeth or makes the childs jaw and face sore, the dentist can prescribe a TMJ mouth guard for the child. This is a special night guard that is molded to the childs teeth but looks similar to sports mouth guards. Initially, the child may find it uncomfortable to wear the mouth guard. However, with time, positive results will be realized.
Helping Kids With Bruxism
Whether your child is grinding teeth due to psychological or physical reasons, there are different ways that you can help him/her ease the condition. For example, reading a book, listing to soothing music for a few minutes o taking a warm shower in a good freestanding tub before bedtime can help the child relax.
If your childs teeth grinding is caused by stress, find out what your child may be upset about and help him/her. For instance, if your child is worried about being away from home for a first camping trip, you can reassure him/her that mom and dad will be nearby if needed.
If the stress is as a result of a more complicated issues, for example, moving to a new school or town, talk with the child and discuss his/her concerns. Try to ease any fears the child may have. If you are concerned about the situation, you can talk to your doctor.
Most of the time, basic stress relievers will be enough to stop bruxism in children. If you child is acting differently from usual or has trouble sleeping, your doctor or dentist may recommend further evaluation. The evaluation can help to determine the underlying cause of the stress, after which an appropriate treatment plan can be devised.
How Long Does Bruxism Last?
Majority of children stop grinding their teeth as soon as they lose the baby teeth. However, some kids may continue grinding way into their teenage years. Moreover, if the teeth grinding is caused by stressed, it will continue until the stress is addressed.
How to Prevent Bruxism
Most cases of bruxism cannot be prevented since they are usually a childs natural reaction to growth and development. However, if the teeth grinding or jaw clenching in the child is as a result of stress, you have a preventive role to play. You should talk with your children regularly to find out how they feel and help them cope with stress. Apart from this, taking children for routine visits to the dentist can help to find and treat bruxism.