What to do if your child grinds their teeth (bruxism)


Does your little guy grind his teeth while sleeping? It’s not unusual. Experts say teeth grinding or bruxism is common, particularly in toddlers and preschoolers. Most kick the habit by age 6 or 7 when their permanent molars erupt. Others continue to grind through their teen years.

So why does your young one do it? Pediatricians and pediatric dentists aren’t sure, but they agree it doesn’t usually stem from anxiety, nightmares, or emotional problems—at least not for younger kids. Some children simply clench their teeth because they’re experiencing pain from an ear infection, teething, or an improper alignment of their teeth.

Night grinding is not usually a problem for young children. Their bites are flexible and will most likely change as they grow. You can mention it to your pediatric dentist, but otherwise it’s nothing to worry about.

It becomes more of a problem with older children if it interferes with the normal growth and alignment of their permanent teeth. Nighttime clenching can wear down or chip teeth, make teeth more sensitive to hot or cold temperatures, affect your child’s healthy bite, or lead to TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder). It can also cause earaches and headaches.

Your child’s dentist should start tracking their teeth, looking for unusual signs of wear and tear. You can also observe your child’s clenching by listening for grinding noises at night or telling the dentist if your child complains of a sore jaw or pain while chewing.

As a preventative measure, your pediatric dentist can custom make a mouth guard for nighttime wear. The mouthpiece is molded to your child’s teeth and is similar to those worn by athletes.

While most kids don’t clench due to anxiety, it’s different for teens. Some middle school and high school students grind their teeth during stressful times like before finals and other major academic tests. Suggest the following to help them work out the jitters before bed:

  • taking a warm bath or shower.
  • reading a book or listen to an audiobook.
  • listening to calming music.
  • talking about their stressor.
  • tuning into an app with relaxing sounds.
  • listening to a bedtime story podcast.
  • taking deep breaths and doing yoga stretches.

If these don’t work and you or your dentist suspect something more serious, consider a further evaluation. This can help pinpoint the cause of stress and get your child appropriate treatment.

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