Bruxism or Teeth Grinding in Children
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is a common condition, but it can become serious if the behavior is exhibited on a regular basis — especially in children. Children are more prone to the adverse effects of teeth grinding than adults, which is why you should consult a pediatric dentist if you notice that your child is grinding his or her teeth.
Teeth grinding is a fairly common occurrence showing up in about 30% of children. Studies amongst preschool children show that more than 36% of those children ground their teeth at least once a week. Even more alarming, those studies determined that 7% of those kids ground their teeth more than four times a week.
The Causes of Teeth Grinding in Children
There are numerous reasons why children grind their teeth, but it is often one of two primary causes. The first cause is either an abnormal bite or crooked and missing teeth. These gaps in the mouth cause the shifting during the night. The second cause is stress or sleeping disorders. People with sleep apnea are often at risk for teeth shifting during the night.
It’s possible that your child’s medication or another medical condition may trigger the grinding symptoms, and you will need to consult a doctor to see if adding or changing prescriptions would help alleviate some of those symptoms.
Diagnosing teeth grinding can be difficult as it often occurs only during the night, and many people don’t realize that they suffer from teeth grinding until they visit a dental professional. Some symptoms to look out for with teeth grinding is a constant, dull headache or a sore jaw. Also, parents should listen in to hear if their child sounds like he or she is grinding his or her teeth.
The Effects of Teeth Grinding in Children
Teeth grinding should be taken as a serious condition with short- and long-term consequences. In the short-term, your child can suffer from morning headaches or from pain in and around their ears caused from the pressure of a clenching jaw throughout the night. Furthermore, your child’s tooth enamel can wear down from the grinding and cause your child to experience painful chewing or sensitive teeth. Furthermore, if you have siblings sharing a room, the loud noise may bother the other sibling during the night.
There are also some long-term effects that begin to develop if bruxism persists. The first of these effects is significant damage to the teeth from constant abrasion over a long period of time. Beyond your child’s tooth enamel wearing down, your child’s teeth may chip, flatten or fracture from the stress of grinding.
This constant grinding can lead to a condition known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. This disorder damages the jaw and causes pain and difficulty to chew or open the mouth. Chronic teeth grinding can wear teeth down to stumps through further fractures and chipping. While teeth are ground down, dental implants like bridges, crowns, root canals, implants, and dentures may be required.
Finally, another challenge with bruxism is that it has a strong association to behavioral issues, like ADHD, and other social anxiety disorders. Social anxiety is a common condition amongst children in school, and parents should seek out all options to reduce stress at home to alleviate their child’s stress after school.
The Treatments for Teeth Grinding in Children
There are several treatment options for children with serious teeth grinding. Especially for kids, parents should consider whatever options are necessary to protect their child’s health. Before seeking treatments on your own, always consult your dentist who can recommend a solution specific to your child’s bruxism or occasional teeth grinding. Your dentist can also recommend dental care options for ground teeth.
The first option is dental treatment—a dentist will mold a mouth guard for the child to wear during his or her sleep. However, parents should be aware that this option is only a temporary solution to teeth grinding. In cases of stress and anxiety disorders, parents will need to seek treatment options for those issues separately.
The second option is behavioral pattern changes. There are a few key habits that, if avoided, will help your child stop their teeth grinding. First, remove any food and drinks that have caffeine in them. Caffeine can found in numerous processed food products and drinks today and eliminating these sources of the stimulant will aid in lowering your child’s stress levels.
Reducing stimulants like caffeine will often solve the compulsory jaw clenching that comes with high stress levels. Also, talk with your child if you know he or she chews on items like pens or gum. Such compulsive chewing activities will tighten the jaw muscles and can lead to more teeth grinding.
The third option for getting your child to stop themselves from clenching their jaw or grinding their teeth is to practice relaxing their jaw muscles and learning to recognize when they are grinding their teeth. When they begin to see that their actions will lead to the unwanted pain, they will start to notice when they grind their teeth. If they write down when the grinding happens during the day, you can learn the triggers to their stress.
If you notice your child grinds their teeth at night, you can help your child relax by engaging in calming pre-sleep routines like reading together before bed or doing yoga together. These kinds of relaxation exercises can help your child calm down after a hard day at school.
Having your child work with a therapist can help reduce any inherent stresses your child endures. Talking with your child about what worries or bothers him or her can help to discover a solution to their stress problems.
Christina Cheryl is a freelance blogger who has been writing about family health and nutrition for nearly 10 years. When she’s not chasing her toddler around the living room, she enjoys running by the ocean from her home in Manhattan Beach, California.