Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is a habit developed by some children. This can be quite a harsh sound and be concerning to parents, however it’s more common than you might think.
Bruxism normally occurs when your child is in a deep sleep or whilst under stress. Whilst up to three in 10 kids will grind or clench their teeth at some time, most simply grow out of it.
What causes Bruxism?
Though studies have been done, no one knows why bruxism happens. But in some cases, kids may grind because the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly. Others do it as a response to pain, such as an earache or teething. Kids might grind their teeth as a way to ease the pain, just as they might rub a sore muscle. Many kids outgrow these fairly common causes for teeth grinding.
Stress, usually nervous tension or anger, can be another cause. For instance, a child might worry about a test at school or a change in routine (a new sibling or a new teacher). Even arguing with parents and siblings can cause enough stress to prompt teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
Some kids who are hyperactive also experience bruxism. And sometimes kids with other medical conditions (such as cerebral palsy) or on certain medications can develop bruxism.
Effects of Bruxism
Many cases of bruxism go undetected with no adverse effects, while others cause headaches or earaches. In some circumstances, night-time teeth grinding and clenching can wear down tooth enamel, chip teeth, increase sensitivity, and cause severe facial pain and jaw problems. In rare cases, some kids can also develop temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ) if their grinding and clenching is chronic.
Lots of kids who grind their teeth aren’t even aware of it, so it’s often siblings or parents who identify the problem. Some signs to watch for:
- grinding noises when your child is sleeping
- complaints of a sore jaw or face in the morning
- pain with chewing
If you think your child is grinding his or her teeth, visit your dentist, who will examine the teeth for chipped enamel and unusual wear and tear, and spray air and water on the teeth to check for unusual sensitivity.
If damage is detected, the dentist may ask your child a few questions, such as:
- How do you feel before bed?
- Are you worried about anything at home or school?
- Are you angry with someone?
- What do you do before bed?
This can help the dentist determine whether teeth grinding is caused by anatomical (misaligned teeth) or psychological (stress) factors and come up with an effective treatment plan.
Most kids outgrow bruxism, but a combination of parental observation and dental visits can help keep the problem in check until they do. In cases where the teeth grinding and clenching make a child’s face and jaw sore or damage the teeth, dentists may prescribe a special night guard. Moulded to a child’s teeth, the night guard is similar to the protective mouthpieces worn by football players. Though a mouthpiece may take some getting used to, positive results happen quickly.
Helping Kids With Bruxism
Whether the cause is physical or psychological, kids might be able to control bruxism by relaxing before bedtime — for example, by taking a warm bath or shower, listening to a few minutes of soothing music, or reading a book.
For bruxism that’s caused by stress, discuss your child’s concerns and try to ease any fears. If you’re still concerned, talk to your family doctor.
In rare cases, basic stress relievers aren’t enough to stop bruxism. If your child has trouble sleeping or is acting differently than usual, your dentist or doctor may suggest further evaluation. This can help determine the cause of the stress and an appropriate course of treatment.
How Long Does Bruxism Last?
Childhood bruxism is usually outgrown by adolescence. Most kids stop teeth 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 is relieved.
Because some bruxism is a child’s natural reaction to growth and development, some cases can’t be prevented. Stress-induced bruxism can be avoided, however, by helping your kids deal with stress.
Ensure your child has regular dental visits to identify and, if needed, treat bruxism.