If you have a child that grinds their teeth, chances are good it’s cost you a few hours of sleep and at least that many hours worth of worry over time. How can so much noise come out of such a small person? And so much awful noise, at that! As alarming as it can be, this crunching, screeching symphony is a very common habit, particularly in children younger than 11. Many dentists are not alarmed by it, and would even consider it to be part of the normal spectrum of behavior for children. There are, however, dental issues that can arise from teeth grinding, or bruxism. Here at Children’s Dental Center, we want to help your child have the healthiest smile they can, so let’s take a look at the problems bruxism can cause, and how we can help resolve them!

The origins of teeth grinding

The technical term for teeth grinding is bruxism. It describes involuntary and excessive grinding, clenching, or rubbing of the teeth outside of normal chewing, swallowing, or speaking movements. It can happen during the day (dirunal) or at night (nocturnal.) Currently, we believe around 2-3 of every 10 children experience some level of teeth grinding, though this number could be much higher since bruxism can go unnoticed by many parents.

Although we do not know the exact reason bruxism develops, there are both physical and psychological causes often linked to it, such as:

Sleep difficulties: This is one of the most common issues associated with teeth grinding. Snoring, sleep talking, and even sleep disorders like apnea, can play a role in developing bruxism in children.

Stress and anxiety: According to the American Dental Association, anxiety and stress are two big contributors to teeth grinding at night. If you have a child that is naturally anxious, or under some kind of external stressor, it can help to work with them on stress relief methods such as relaxing music, a long walk, or a warm bath before bed to reduce or eliminate bruxism.

Malocclusions: Children who have bite and alignment issues in the upper or lower jaw are another common cause of grinding. Correcting these malocclusions can help, and this is something experienced dentists like Drs. Rowland, Selecman, and Daniel will be able to recognize and recommend treatment for.

Medications and medical conditions: There are certain medications and medical conditions for which bruxism can be a side-effect, particularly neurological conditions.

Genetics: Teeth grinding is inheritable. If you or others in your family have suffered from bruxism in the past, your child may be more likely to develop it as well.


Monitoring teeth grinding in your child

Determining and monitoring teeth grinding in your child is not as simple as just asking them if they are doing it. For most kids (and adults!), it is an unconscious behavior. It is quite normal for bruxism to go undetected, as many people affected by it do not suffer any real problems because of it. In fact, most cases tend to bother other family members more than the actual teeth grinder because of the annoying sound it produces!

That said, if you suspect bruxism in your child but have not been able to catch them in the act just yet, here are some strategies for discovering if they are grinding their teeth at night.

Monitor them as they are sleeping: Many parents already have a video monitor system in place in their child’s room, or have one put away from when they were they were small babies. This can be a great way to catch your child in the act of grinding their teeth. If they share a room with a sibling, you may be able to have their brother or sister shed some light on what’s happening once the lights are off and you say goodnight, or you could always sneak back in to see what you can hear.

Take note of any jaw pain: If your child complains of a sore jaw when chewing, or at any time, make a mental note of it. Jaw pain is a very common sign of bruxism.

Check out your child’s teeth: Take a peek into your child’s mouth. If the teeth all appear to be the same length, or seem flat, bruxism could be to blame. This type of noticeable flatness is often the result of the teeth being worn down from the constant grinding at night.

Possible effects of teeth grinding

Although research has shown that most children do eventually outgrow bruxism, it can still cause some difficulties for them while it lasts, such as:

Damaging tooth enamel: Over time, teeth grinding can wear down the enamel of your child’s teeth, eventually leading to the exposure of the much softer dentine.

Interrupted sleep: Did you know that bruxism is actually classified as a sleep disorder? This is because it often disrupts restful sleep. Waking up multiple times at night can be hard on the body, brain, and emotions!

Behavioral issues: This can go hand in hand with less sleep, since a lack of quality sleep in children can cause behavioral problems. In fact, clinical studies have demonstrated an association between bruxism and anxiety, stress, and depression in those who suffer from it.

Jaw pain, headaches, and other body aches: Children and adult alike may find themselves dealing with headaches, ear aches, jaw pain, and even damaged teeth due to prolonged teeth grinding. This can take a toll and really impact the overall quality of life if not treated.

Prevention and treatment for teeth grinding in children

If you suspect or confirm teeth grinding in your child, your first step should be to contact Children’s Dental Center. Our doctors will be able to conduct a thorough examination of your child’s teeth and determine if the grinding is causing any damage. If there is no damage present, it is likely no further treatment will be recommended, especially since most children do outgrow bruxism naturally.

If we do notice any problems related to teeth grinding, we will be able to provide you with several options for helping to reduce the amount of grinding, as well as prevent any further damage and treat any damage already present. This will generally involve treating any obvious underlying causes, such as reducing stress and anxiety, along with more proactive treatment, such as a special night guard made specifically for your child’s teeth.

CDC Staff

Protecting your child’s teeth with Children’s Dental Center

If you are in Memphis or the surrounding area and struggling to get a good night’s sleep due to your child’s teeth grinding, our talented team can help you both rest better and smile brighter! We have years of experience treating children in the Mid-South, and with three conveniently located offices to choose from, we are never too far from where you are. Get in touch with us today to find out more about how we protect your child’s smile from the effects of teeth grinding.