Have you ever noticed your child grinding or clenching their teeth during the day or night? Bruxism, commonly known as teeth grinding, can be experienced by anyone, but kids seem to have it at higher rates. In fact, Kids Health, says that three out of ten children either grind or clench their teeth.
Some children continue to grind their teeth even in adolescence or adulthood, but most kids will grow out of it as they lose their baby teeth. Even so, it can cause problems for your child while it’s happening.
You may be wondering how to know if your child is grinding their teeth. That’s a question lots of parents ask. Here are several ways you can tell if your child is experiencing bruxism:
- Grinding sounds during the night
- Soreness in the jaw or face
- Pain when chewing
- Headache starting in the temples
- Teeth look worn and flattened
- Sensitivity to cold or hot temperatures
At Hurst Pediatric Dentistry, we check to see if children are grinding their teeth by checking for chipped teeth, worn enamel, and teeth sensitivity. We also spray air or water on the teeth to check to see just how sensitive the teeth are.
We also ask your child specific questions to determine their level of stress as well as questions about their bedtime routines. From the examination and the answers to the questions, we determine what type of grinding your child is having.
Types of Teeth Grinding
There are two types of bruxism (teeth grinding): awake and sleep.
- Awake bruxism is usually characterized by children clenching their jaws while awake due to stress, anxiety, or intense concentration.
- Sleep bruxism is characterized by children grinding their teeth while asleep. This type of bruxism is classified as a sleep-related movement disorder, in the same category as restless leg syndrome.
What Causes Teeth Grinding?
Although the exact cause of teeth grinding is unknown, scientists think it may be a combination of physical, genetic, and psychological issues.
Bruxism can be caused by a variety of things, such as stress, anxiety, and a variety of sleep disorders. When a child has stress or anxiety, grinding can be a coping mechanism to diffuse it. If a child has a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, bruxism will likely accompany it.
Stress in children can be related to many factors including worrying about grades, taking tests, coping with a new teacher, or dealing with peer pressure in school. At home, kids can be affected by arguments with siblings and parents or by the introduction of a new family member, like a baby brother or sister.
Another cause of teeth grinding in children is incoming teeth. Your child may clench and grind their teeth to relieve aches and pains caused by the adult teeth pressing on the baby teeth.
According to Delta Dental, other causes can include reactions to medications, teeth misalignment, growing pains, and injuries. Pains from earaches tend to cause teeth grinding as well.
The personality your child has can affect whether they develop teeth grinding. Kids that are aggressive, hyperactive, or competitive are at increased risk for experiencing bruxism.
In addition, the Mayo Clinic states that certain disorders can increase the risk of developing teeth grinding such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder), ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), sleep apnea, epilepsy, and night terrors.
Effects of Teeth Grinding
A child grinding their teeth can lead to many serious issues that will affect them later on in life.
One major issue that can arise is temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). This joint is responsible for connecting the lower jaw to the base of the skull. It allows for talking, chewing, and yawning. With TMD, the joint is worn down from overuse and can allow the bone to slip out of its socket. This may or may not be painful, but can cause problems later in life.
Not only does teeth grinding put your child at risk for developing TMD, but it can also physically damage your child’s teeth. Teeth grinding can wear down the enamel of teeth or cause chipping.
It can also increase tooth sensitivity and cause serious jaw, neck, and facial pain, including damage to the inside of the cheek. Teeth grinding can also cause headaches and earaches. While most cases are not this severe, it is something you should ask your dentist about at checkup time.
Treating Kids with Teeth Grinding
Children who grind their teeth often grow out of it once their permanent teeth come in. It is possible, though, for this habit to continue into adolescence. If this is the case, there are methods to treat it.
- One method is the use of a mouth guard (or occlusal guard), which prevents the teeth grinding from doing additional damage to your child’s teeth.
- If you think the cause of your child’s bruxism is stress or anxiety, sitting down with them and talking it out could help.
- If a sleep disorder is the cause of teeth grinding, getting that disorder treated can help to ease the grinding.
Be aware that experts say you should NOT wake your child up if you hear them grinding in their sleep. Healthline says this can make the problem worsen.
Preventing Teeth Grinding
There isn’t really a way to prevent teeth grinding if it occurs, but there are some things you and your child can do to ease the symptoms.
- Try not to let your child chew on things other than food because this will allow the jaw muscles to get used to grinding and clenching, which ups the chance of developing bruxism. This includes chewing gum.
- At night, take a warm washcloth and relax your child’s muscles by placing it on their jaw muscles near the base of the ear.
- Work with your child to massage their muscles and perform stretching exercises.
- Avoid giving your child any caffeine before bedtime
- Establish a nighttime routine to wind your child down and alleviate stress from the day. Consider including warm baths, reading to your child, or listening to relaxing music.
- Eliminate computer and phone time at least 30 minutes before bedtime to allow your child time to wind down before sleeping.
Your child’s dental health is too important to be affected by pediatric bruxism. If you notice any of the above symptoms, Hurst Pediatric Dentistry will be there to help. If you want to learn more or make an appointment, contact us or call (205) 969-7454.