Grinding Teeth is not a sound you expect to hear when checking on your sleeping child.  Instead, you hope that your child is peacefully dreaming sweet dreams.

The experts at Kid’s Health points out that 20 to 30 percent of kids do grind their teeth.  The medical term for this is “Bruxism.”  So, it refers to the grinding or clenching of your child’s teeth.

This week, Dentistry for Children investigates Bruxism.   We would like to help you understand some of the symptoms, causes, and treatment that may be necessary in extreme cases.

Can You Recognize the Symptoms of Bruxism or Teeth Grinding?

Grinding Can Lead to Broken Teeth.

Sore or painful Jaw is One Possible Symptom of Bruxism.

Many parents have personal experience with the grinding of teeth.  Some of us may even utilize night guards to alleviate this problem.  However, recognizing this problem in our child may be a bit more involved.  Here are some of the symptoms to look for.

  • Rhythmic contractions in the jaw muscles may occur.
  • Your baby may have jaw muscles that are tight and painful. Thus, it can be uncomfortable or painful to open the mouth.
  • Popping or cracking sound can be heard in the Jaw area.
  • Early morning headaches can make your child fussy or moody.
  • A grinding sound at night is sometimes heard. When it occurs in older children or adults, the sound may actually disturb the sleep of others.
  • Jaw muscles are tight or painful.  This can be uncomfortable or even painful for your child to just to open his or her mouth wide.
  • Occasionally swelling of the lower jaw will occur.  Chronic clenching exercises the jaw muscles and can cause it to swell.  Once your child stops clenching, the muscles will shrink and the swelling will go away.

Example of Grinding Teeth in Family Members

Mrs. Nancy Wells is the mother of two very active boys.  Ethan is 8 and Jack is 6.

The time is 7: 00 A.M.  Mom is frantically trying to get breakfast and lunches ready for the children.  Every morning, she drives the two boys to school which starts at 8:00.

Jack comes into the kitchen complaining…

Jack:  “Mom, Ethan won’t let me sleep at night.  He keeps making horrible noises all night.”
Ethan:  “Do not.”
Jack:  “Do too!”
Mom, absently:  “That’s nice.  Sit down and eat your breakfast.”

Mom has barely heard the boys.  But, later when she has time for the comment to soak in, she begins to wonder.  And that night, she slips into the boy’s room and listens.

Sure enough, she hears a strange sound coming from Ethan’s Bed.  Upon investigation, she discovers he is grinding his teeth.

Like most moms, she is concerned and makes an appointment with the dentist.  After examing Ethan, the dentist suggests waiting and just “keeping an eye on him.”

He points out to mom that this is a fairly common experience for young children and it usually goes away without treatment.

If you’re concerned about your “baby grinding teeth,” rest assured, this behavior is common in many young children.

Only in rare cases, is it cause for concern.  However, it is also treatable when necessary.

How Do You Identify Bruxism in Your Child?

As we mentioned earlier, 20 to 30 percent of kids grind their teeth.

Checking to see if your child has the problem is relatively simple.  And the easiest way to identify if your child is grinding their teeth is to simply listen for it.

A representative of the Colgate company says, “It may sound like rubbing fine sandpaper.  And then, in the case of rhythmic clenching (particularly when your child is sleeping), you may hear what sounds like a soft clinking or grating sound similar to a pestle against the mortar.”

The representative continues, “Notice, too, whether your baby or toddler is clenching or favoring a certain side of their mouth in waking hours. The Bruxing could be caused by the fact your child is cutting new teeth.”

What Causes My Child to Grind Their Teeth?

Bruxism or Teeth Grinding is Usually Out Grown.

Bruxism or Teeth Grinding is Usually Out Grown.

Experts aren’t always sure why bruxism happens. In some cases, kids may grind because the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly.  These are other possible causes.

Babies may begin grinding their teeth when a new tooth comes in.  One expert said, “Your baby may simply be exploring how their teeth work.”

Here is an example of a cat playing with its tail. It is almost like they have just discovered it and are trying to find out what it is.

Babies sometimes grind their teeth when they experience pain.  The pain could be from an earache or teething.  Kids might grind their teeth as a way to ease the pain.

Still, another cause is that some kids who are hyperactive are also teeth grinders.

Many kids outgrow these fairly common causes for grinding.  However, if the condition persists for a lengthy time, check with your pediatric dentist.

Will Stress or Anxiety Cause Bruxism?

Stress may relate to nervous tension or anger or worry.  For instance, a child might worry about a test at school or a change in routine (a new sibling or a new teacher).

Conflict with parents and siblings can cause enough stress to prompt teeth grinding or jaw clenching.

A study at Mayo Clinic revealed an anxiety problem, termed “Separation anxiety.”  This is considered to be a normal stage of development for infants and toddlers.  It is simply the fact that mom or dad is missing from their world.

Young children often experience a period of separation anxiety.  However, most children outgrow separation anxiety by about 3 years of age.

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.

What Can I Do to Decrease My Child’s Stress?

Possibly the most important action you can take is simply to talk to your child.  Try to find out what they are feeling at bedtime.  Help them to relax before going to sleep.

For bruxism or grinding that’s caused by stress, ask your child, what’s upsetting them.  Then, try to find a way to ease their worries.

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, or family disagreements, discuss your child’s concerns.  And also, try to ease those fears.

When Should You Become Concerned?

Tooth grinding is common in babies and in many cases, they grow out of it.  However, be on alert if your child shows signs of other ailments or problems.

For example, if they’re “pulling at their ear or avoiding food, it may indicate they’re suffering from an earache, a headache, tooth eruption or stomach infection.”

Experts reassure us that most babies that grind their teeth, stop the habit on their own.

The Colgate Company also advises, “if the behavior persists, consult your pediatrician and pediatric dentist to ensure the problem doesn’t go overlooked.

Grinding Can Be Treated.

Checking for Grinding Damage.

Proper Treatment Can Avoid More Serious Conditions

Severe damage to teeth and physical conditions, such as TMJ could develop if necessary treatment is needed and neglected.

Necessary treatment might be as simple as mouth guards.  Or it could involve physical therapy, stress reduction, or medication for aches or intestinal conditions.  “Your medical and dental professionals can help your child continue on the path of good health and oral hygiene.”

We at Dentistry for Children thank you for reading our blog and invite you to return for our next blog episode.