Toddler grinding teeth sleep

Bruxism (Teeth Grinding or Clenching)

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When you look in on your sleeping child, you want to hear the sounds of sweet dreams: easy breathing and perhaps an occasional sigh. But some parents hear the harsher sounds of gnashing and grinding teeth, called bruxism, which is common in kids.

About Bruxism

Bruxism is the medical term for the grinding of teeth or the clenching of jaws. Many kids have it (2 to 3 out of every 10 will grind or clench, experts say), but most outgrow it. Bruxism often happens during deep sleep phases or when kids are under stress.

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 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.

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 (a new sibling or a new teacher). Even arguing with parents and siblings can cause enough stress to prompt teeth grinding or jaw clenching.

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.

Effects of Bruxism

Many cases of bruxism go undetected with no ill effects, while others cause headaches or earaches. Usually, though, it’s more bothersome to other family members because of the grinding sound.

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.

Diagnosing Bruxism

Lots of kids who grind their teeth aren’t even aware of it, so it’s often siblings or parents who identify the problem.

Some signs to watch for:

  • grinding noises when your child is sleeping
  • complaints of a sore jaw or face after waking up in the morning
  • pain with chewing

If you think your child is grinding his or her teeth, visit the dentist, who will examine the teeth for chipped enamel and unusual wear and tear, and spray air and water on the teeth to check for unusual sensitivity.

If 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.

Treating Bruxism

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

In cases where the grinding and clenching make a child’s face and jaw sore or damage the teeth, dentists may prescribe a special night guard. Molded to a child’s teeth, the night guard is similar to the protective mouthpieces worn by athletes. Though a mouthpiece can take some getting used to, positive results happen quickly.

Helping Kids With Bruxism

Whether the cause is physical or psychological, kids might be able to control bruxism by relaxing before bedtime — for example, by taking a warm bath or shower, listening to a few minutes of soothing music, or reading a book.

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. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor.

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.

How Long Does Bruxism Last?

Most kids stop grinding when they lose their baby teeth. However, a few kids do continue to grind into adolescence. And if the bruxism is caused by stress, it will continue until the stress eases.

Preventing Bruxism

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.

Reviewed by: Kenneth H. Hirsch, DDS Date reviewed: July 2015

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 night guard to protect teeth in cases where bruxism is causing damage. Dental coverage for night guards – commonly referred to as “occlusal guards” – varies, so check your plan to learn if they’re covered.

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.

Do Children Grind Their Teeth?

The problem of teeth grinding is not limited to adults. Approximately 15% to 33% of children grind their teeth. Children who grind their teeth tend to do so at two peak times — when their baby teeth emerge and when their permanent teeth come in. Most children lose the teeth grinding habit after these two sets of teeth have come in more fully.

Most commonly, children grind their teeth during sleep rather than during waking hours. No one knows exactly why children grind their teeth but considerations include improperly aligned teeth or irregular contact between upper and lower teeth, illnesses and other medical conditions (such as nutritional deficiencies, pinworm, allergies, endocrine disorders), and psychological factors including anxiety and stress.

Grinding of the baby teeth rarely results in problems. However, teeth grinding can cause jaw pain, headaches, wear on the teeth, and TMD. Consult your dentist if your child’s teeth look worn or if your child complains of tooth sensitivity or pain.

Specific tips to help a child stop grinding his or her teeth include:

  • Decrease your child’s stress, especially just before bed.

  • Try massage and stretching exercises to relax the muscles.
  • Make sure your child’s diet includes plenty of water. Dehydration may be linked to teeth grinding.
  • Ask your dentist to monitor your child’s teeth if he or she is a grinder.

No intervention is usually required with preschool-age children. However, older children may need temporary crowns or other methods, such as a night guard, to prevent the grinding.

Does Your Child Grind His or Her Teeth at Night?

Bruxism, or the grinding of teeth, is remarkably common in children and adults. For some children, this tooth grinding is limited to daytime hours, but nighttime grinding (during sleep) is most prevalent. Bruxism can lead to a wide range of dental problems, depending on the frequency of the behavior, the intensity of the grinding, and the underlying causes of the grinding.
A wide range of psychological, physiological, and physical factors may lead children to brux. In particular, jaw misalignment (bad bite), stress, and traumatic brain injury are all thought to contribute to bruxism, although grinding can also occur as a side effect of certain medications.

What are some symptoms of bruxism?

In general, parents can usually hear intense grinding – especially when it occurs at nighttime. Subtle daytime jaw clenching and grinding, however, can be difficult to pinpoint. Oftentimes, general symptoms provide clues as to whether or not the child is bruxing, including:

  • Frequent complaints of headache.
  • Injured teeth and gums.
  • Loud grinding or clicking sounds.
  • Rhythmic tightening or clenching of the jaw muscles.
  • Unusual complaints about painful jaw muscles – especially in the morning.
  • Unusual tooth sensitivity to hot and cold foods.

How can bruxism damage my child’s teeth?

Bruxism is characterized by the grinding of the upper jaw against the lower jaw. Especially in cases where there is vigorous grinding, the child may experience moderate to severe jaw discomfort, headaches, and ear pain. Even if the child is completely unaware of nighttime bruxing (and parents are unable to hear it), the condition of the teeth provides the pediatric dentist with important clues.

First, chronic grinders usually show an excessive wear pattern on the teeth. If jaw misalignment is the cause, tooth enamel may be worn down in specific areas. In addition, children who brux are more susceptible to chipped teeth, facial pain, gum injury, and temperature sensitivity. In extreme cases, frequent, harsh grinding can lead to the early onset of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

What causes bruxism?

Bruxism can be caused by several different factors. Most commonly, “bad bite” or jaw misalignment promotes grinding. Pediatric dentists also notice that children tend to brux more frequently in response to life stressors. If the child is going through a particularly stressful exam period or is relocating to a new school for example, nighttime bruxing may either begin or intensify.

Children with certain developmental disorders and brain injuries may be at particular risk for grinding. In such cases, the pediatric dentist may suggest botulism injections to calm the facial muscles, or provide a protective nighttime mouthpiece. If the onset of bruxing is sudden, current medications need to be evaluated. Though bruxing is a rare side effect of specific medications, the medication itself may need to be switched for an alternate brand.

How is bruxism treated?

Bruxing spontaneously ceases by the age of thirteen in the majority of children. In the meantime however, the pediatric dentist will continually monitor its effect on the child’s teeth and may provide an interventional strategy.
In general, the cause of the grinding dictates the treatment approach. If the child’s teeth are badly misaligned, the pediatric dentist may take steps to correct this. Some of the available options include: altering the biting surface of teeth with crowns, and beginning occlusal treatment.
If bruxing seems to be exacerbated by stress, the pediatric dentist may recommend relaxation classes, professional therapy, or special exercises. The child’s pediatrician may also provide muscle relaxants to alleviate jaw clenching and reduce jaw spasms.
In cases where young teeth are sustaining significant damage, the pediatric dentist may suggest a specialized nighttime dental appliance such as a nighttime mouth guard. Mouth guards stop tooth surfaces from grinding against each other, and look similar to a mouthpiece a person might wear during sports. Bite splints, or bite plates, fulfill the same function, and are almost universally successful in preventing grinding damage.

If you have questions or concerns about bruxism or grinding teeth, please contact your pediatric dentist.

About teeth-grinding

Many children grind their teeth at some stage. Some children clench their jaws quite firmly. Others grind so hard that it makes a noise.

If your child grinds her teeth, she won’t usually wake up because of the noise she’s making – but other people in the room might!

In most cases, teeth-grinding doesn’t cause any damage to children’s teeth.

Teeth-grinding might damage teeth in only a few very extreme cases, where the grinding is very regular and very strong.

When to seek help for teeth-grinding

If you’re worried about your child’s teeth-grinding, talk to a health professional, like your GP or dentist. Devices to protect teeth or prevent grinding can help. You can talk to your dentist about these.

If your child grinds his teeth and also snores loudly, breathes with his mouth open, or chokes or gasps while he’s asleep, it’s a good idea to see your GP. This can help you rule out issues like sleep apnoea.

Why children grind their teeth

Nobody knows for sure why children grind their teeth.

They might do it because their top and bottom teeth aren’t lined up. Or they might do it because they have pain somewhere else in their bodies or because they’re stressed.

In many cases, it’s likely to be just a childhood habit that children grow out of.

Bruxism in Children: What to Look for and How to Treat It

Bruxism, or teeth-grinding, can be a serious dental concern if this clenching and gnashing erodes your strong but finite tooth enamel. Bruxism in children, believe it or not, is rather common. Here’s what you need to know about bruxism and what you can do for your child.

Causes of Bruxism

Two to three out of 10 children have bruxism, states the Nemours Foundation, but most will eventually outgrow it. It isn’t clear what exactly causes bruxism, although misaligned teeth is one likely suspect. Often kids will grind their teeth if they’re in pain, whereas other children may do it as a way to relieve anxiety or stress. Teeth-clenching and grinding can also come from hyperactivity, cerebral palsy or even a reaction to common medications.

Bruxism primarily causes headaches, earaches, facial pain and jaw problems, but watch your kids to keep them from chipping teeth or wearing down their tooth enamel. It’s vital to know whether your child has the condition, even if they still have their primary teeth.

Finding Out If They Have It

Determining if your child has bruxism can be tricky, because the child often doesn’t realize he or she is grinding at all. Check in on them at night to discover whether they make grinding noises while asleep, or ask a sibling who shares the room with them. If your child complains of a sore jaw, or pain when chewing, these can also signal bruxism.

Is he particularly worried or angry about anything? If these emotions coincide with the sound of teeth-grinding while they sleep, it’s time to pay attention. Kids experience a lot of anxiety in general, and you may need to address the root cause through other medical treatment or stress-relieving interventions, like a warm bath or soothing music before bedtime.

What to Do Next

If you believe your child has bruxism, schedule a dental checkup for a proper diagnosis and further treatment. Your dentist may even order a custom mouth guard for wear at night to prevent grinding and the residual soreness. Battery-powered toothbrushes such as Colgate® Fresh ‘N Protect™ can defend their teeth further by discouraging an overly aggressive brushing style.

Bruxism in children as a result of stress can be prevented by taking special care to help yours deal with it appropriately. The good news is most kids eventually grow out of the tendency, but it doesn’t hurt to make that dentist appointment to first diagnose the problem, allowing you to then treat it the best way you can.

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