Teeth Grinding in Children

Teeth grinding is a common dental problem, and although there are many that are not aware of the fact, medical experts rank it amongst the top five major dental issues. One out of every few people has bruxism (as this is medically known) and surveys show that the number of children grinding teeth in sleep has only relatively increased.

It is true that in most cases, bruxism is a disorder that appears in adults. But many parents have reported strange noises coming from their children’s mouths while they are sleeping.

Why is my child/baby grinding teeth?

If you woke up by the sound of horrible loud grinding coming from your baby monitor, it is not surprising that you got worried and concerned. Relax, teeth grinding in children is fairly common. According to the study published by the Journal of Dentistry for Children, almost 38 percents of kids grind their teeth. Some start as soon as they have something to grind, but in average most children start grinding their teeth at the age of three and half. In most cases, the upsetting grinding stops naturally by the time kids reach the age of six (before adulthood).

Bruxism symptoms

Most kids do not show any symptoms of teeth grinding. In most cases, sibling sleeping with a teeth grinding child will complain to the parents about the noise, alerting them of the problem. Some parents can hear the grinding through the baby monitor. In older children, the dentist is the one to spot unusual wear and tear of child’s teeth, suspecting that the bruxism is the cause. Some children develop tension headache because of clenching of jaws, and will complain about it in the morning. They also might complain about the pain in the jaw or ears.

If children are constantly grinding their teeth, the teeth will show noticeable wear, looking blunt and short, even chipped and loose. It is easy to overlook bruxism as a reason for this since baby teeth are not permanent and we all expect them to be weak and fall out eventually. But, the extensive wear from bruxism can make them more sensitive to the cold and hot because of the exposed enamel, and the kids can suffer from toothache.

Causes of teeth grinding

Infant/Baby:  

Teeth grinding or bruxism is fairly common in both children and adults. In most cases, the reason for it is stress, misaligned teeth or missing teeth. In very small children, there are few other possible causes:

 

1. Teething - Some babies clench their jaws and rub them together when they are teething, because the gums hurt them. Toddlers normally would clench their jaws before the tooth has grown and then would move on to grinding. In some of these cases, even when few teeth have grown, they’ll keep on grinding.

2. Pacifier - Others get used to the circular motion of jaws when they have a pacifier, and continue with this habit after they are weened off their pacifier.

 

3. Earache – Earache, a common problem in kids, also causes some kids to grind their teeth.

 

4. Hyperactive children - Hyperactive children are also more likely to grind their teeth.

 

5. According to Professor Ettie Gazit, in some cases where toddlers that don’t have teeth yet grind their gums, the parents play a central part as a catalyst. For example, she says: “Many parents tell their children to close their mouths and the children do not understand the meaning, and close their mouths very forcefully, and that’s how the process of tooth clenching starts. When you say or think of a closed mouth, it’s important to remember that it refers to closed lips, and teeth that are not in contact. That’s the natural position of a closed mouth.”

Child:
Although there are a number of reasons that can be held responsible for the occurrence of bruxism in your child, there are some that are extremely common. Medical experts hold four factors majorly responsible for child teeth grinding. We briefly explain all these factors in the sections below:

 


1. New adult teeth - Children’s bruxism is usually at night and during the two tooth-growing times of childhood: the first time being when they are toddlers and growing their first ‘milk teeth’. and the second time being when they are losing their baby teeth and growing adult teeth. The pain and discomfort of growth may cause children to brux at night.

 

2. Stress - Stress is the most common reason for teeth grinding, in both adults and children, and children have more difficulty verbalizing their problems. It is up to parents to find out what is bothering them.

 

3. Tension headaches – A study revealed that nearly half of the children suffering from tension headaches also complained of bruxism. This was in sharp contrast to the other children who did not suffer from these headaches, and only 2.4% children in this category were found to suffer from the disorder. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and are caused by things like stress, hunger, muscle tension, sore eyes, bad posture and lack of sleep.

 

4. Nasal obstruction – Another cause of bruxism in children is nasal obstruction[1]: For instance, a blocked nose, a foreign object stuck in the nostrils, irregular shape of the nose or a deviated septum. If your child has a cold that is blocking his or her nose and/or sinuses, speak to your family doctor about nasal sprays and other treatments that will allow your child to breathe easily. Otherwise, ensure that your child has nothing stuck inside his or her nostrils.

 

In addition to these four major causes of teeth grinding in children, bruxism can also be triggered as a result of sleep disorder. Interruptions caused in smooth rapid eye movement patterns during sleep could be a possible cause for this, and this typically is a result of dehydration. Consulting a dental expert will give you in-depth knowledge in this regard.

The effects of bruxism

The effects of bruxism are mild to severe, and depending on the condition, can cause short term or even long term damage. The distressing effects most commonly reported in children and toddlers suffering from bruxism are:

  • Headaches
  • Earaches
  • Jaw tension, causing a limitation in mouth opening
  • Problems with sleep

Chronic teeth grinding can cause several complications, all of which have a negative impact on a child’s heath. If not taken care of properly, these can lead to extensive damage in the body. There are numerous impacts that severe bruxism can have, and these include fracturing, loosening, or even loss of teeth. Severe teeth grinding can also lead to hearing loss, and in some cases has also been known to trigger or worsen TMD/TMJ.

How to stop bruxism - Tips for stopping/preventing bruxism in children:

Bruxism, in most cases, disappears as the child grows. However, there are some tips you may find useful if you want to prevent its occurrence in your child, or if you think that your child is already suffering from bruxism. Nonetheless, it is strongly recommended that you consult a dental expert for symptoms and advice.

Tip #1 – Visit your dentist –  If you suspect, or are sure, that your child is grinding his or her teeth, the first thing to do is to visit your dentist. Proper dental care is of immense importance, particularly in the case of children. There are various oral problems that a baby/child can suffer right from his/her childhood days, and proper dental treatment ensures that your baby/child remains healthy and safe at all times. Let your family dentist monitor your child’s teeth for wear and damage. The dentist will be able to tell you if there is a problem such as misaligned jaws, or if the teeth are so worn out that the child is in pain.

Tip #2 – Get a mouth guard and prevent further damage  - Even Your doctor might recommend/prescribe a bruxism guard (see different types of mouth guards here ) that your child can wear at night to protect his/her teeth. Although, there are few importent things you need to consider: 

 

    1. “It’s not a cure” - A night guard is only protection against further damage, not a cure.
    2. Children may find it uncomfortable - Mouth guards are mostly recommended for sufferers of this disorder, and although it is a safe way of treatment, children may find it uncomfortable. Thus, many children, particularly very young ones, reject the mouth guard. 
    3. Not for babies/toddlers - Additionally, this is not a method of treatment suitable for babies/toddlers, and there are other alternatives you may want to look at.
    4. Fast growing of children jaws - Another issue is also in the very fast growing of children jaws, so even the best fitting guard does not fit any more very soon – thats why consider getting cheeper mouth guard instead of custom made one.

Tip #3 - Eliminate stress factor! - If your dentist could not find any physical reason for grinding teeth of your child, you might want to think of stress factor. Stress has been known to be amongst the most popular causes of the problem in children, and experts suggest that the best method of treatment is to find the underlying cause. You will need to help relax your child, and some useful tips are:

 

    1. Talk to your pediatrician - Talk to your pediatrician, who can try to find out what is bothering him or her.
    2. Putting children to sleep - Even if you do not find out what is the problem causing your child such a stress that he or she grinds teeth at night, you can try to relax them in a quiet moment before the child goes to sleep. There are a number of ways, here are the most popular things you could try:
      • Reading bedtime stories - Try reading a nice bedtime story.
      • Soft, relaxing music - listening to some soothing music.
      • Just talk - Just talking about the daily events and showing your child support and love might sooth away some of the stress and anxiety.
      • Warm milk - Glass of warm milk.
      • Warm bath - A warm bath just before bedtime can relax an anxious child very effectively.
      • Essential oil of lavender - Putting a few drops of the essential oil of lavender on a piece of tissue, which is then placed inside the child’s pillow slip, can also help.
      • Stretching exercises - If sleep disruption is the issue, you may also want to try some gentle stretching exercises with your child. This can be a fun, bonding experience if you do this together with your child, and can really help in loosening cramped or contracted muscles.
    3. Spend quality time with your child - Work is important, but so is your child. Always make it a point to spend some quality family time. Not only will this create a bonding between you and your child, but it also help your child unwind and relax
    4. Playing tension-relieving games – These are games your child will enjoy playing, and these can also work as a method of treatment for bruxism. Sand games, such as building sandcastles or playing in sand pits, or water games, which include balloons, water pistols and slides, are among kids’ favorites.
Please Read Tips for parents to relieve your child’s tension for more information.

 

More Tips:

    1. Prevent Dehydration - In general, if your child bruxes, make sure they are drinking enough water every day.
    2. Eliminate Headaches - If your child is complaining of headaches, ask your local pharmacy for the best treatment – they may recommend some appropriate analgesics (painkillers).
    3. Proper Sleep  - Another reason to worry is if the child is not getting enough sleep. Preschool kids need from 11 to 13 hours of uninterrupted sleep for their physical and mental well-being. If the teeth grinding is affecting their sleep, it becomes imperative to find the cause and help the child to stop this unpleasant involuntary activity.
    4. Food - Be sure that they are eating meals at regular times.

In case all the advice given in this category did not improve the situation at all, it is highly recommended to seek professional help. If your child’s bruxism is not treated it can lead to jaw pain, headaches, TMJ, and tooth sensitivity and wear.

When to worry

Teeth grinding can be a sign of bigger problems, such as cerebral palsy and it can be caused as a reaction to some medication child is taking, so it is very important to talk to your child’s doctor to eliminate any serious problems.

A recent study presented at the Annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies found possible link between teeth grinding and withdrawn behavior in children. The study collected information from almost two thousand children and found that about 37 percents of children grind their teeth frequently. The parents who reported more frequent teeth grinding also reported more withdrawn behavior, problems adjusting to school environment and the lack of interest in socializing with other children.

Although scientists did not draw any firm conclusions, the obvious question is whether bruxism was caused by withdrawn behavior or other way around. A stress and anxiety a child goes through for one reason or another may easily cause both their teeth grinding and antisocial behavior.

Final say

In most children, their teeth grinding will go away naturally by the time their develop the permanent set of teeth. As long as your dentist make sure that there is nothing to worry about and you did your job as a parent to help your child go through stressful events in life, your child will grow out of teeth grinding with no consequences. He or she still might grind teeth occasionally as a grown-up when going through a tough period, but that is just a part of normal life.

More About Children’s Bruxism:

 

References

  1. Grechi, T., Trawitzki, L. V. V., de Felicio, C. M., et. al. (2008). Bruxism in Children with Nasal Obstruction. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 72, 391-396.
  2. Naor, R. (2002). Grinding Your Teeth. In NRG Health Magazine. Retrieved September 25, 2008, from www.nrg.co.il/online/archive/ART/312/383.html [With the kind help of translation services]

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