It’s official – the gut-wrenching sounds you hear at night are from your kids’ bedroom. Someone is clenching their jaw and grinding their teeth while they sleep. They are not alone.
15 to 33% of children (2-3 out of 10 children) grind their teeth.
While this worries you as a parent, there is hope – your child’s teeth grinding episodes only keep your family members up at night — nothing more. Many healthcare professionals consider teeth grinding to be normal, considering how common it is among preteen children.
However, there’s some cause for concern as this grinding can become a problem. It makes it worth monitoring.
What is Teeth Grinding?
Teeth grinding belongs to the family of dental habits we know as bruxism. Bruxism comprises of any involuntary movement of the teeth and jaws that is separate from their usual functions of speaking, chewing, and swallowing.
The biggest concern about bruxism is the possibility of generating biting forces strong enough to damage the child’s teeth and gums. It could also be a reason for jaw joint problems. The grinding action steadily erodes your child’s durable-but-limited tooth enamel.
Teeth damage, jaw pain, headaches, wear on teeth, temporomandibular disorder (TMD), or even changes in the appearance of their face and other oral health complications can arise from teeth grinding.
Most children grind their teeth during sleep (mostly night time or nocturnal) than during waking hours (primarily diurnal).
Symptoms, Causes, and Effects of Teeth Grinding
Bruxism may occur in adults due to stress. Anti-depressant drugs may also be responsible. In children, however, it is likely due to immature neuromuscular processes that many children eventually outgrow.
The biting forces can become quite persistent and more likely if your children snore or breathe through their mouths due to obstructive sleep apnea.
There are two significant times when children grind their teeth: when the baby teeth first emerge and when their permanent teeth arrive.
It remains unclear why children grind their teeth.
However, several considerations include:
- improper alignment of teeth, or irregular contact between lower and upper teeth
- illness or other medical conditions such as nutritional deficiencies, allergies, endocrine disorders
- psychological reasons like anxiety and stress, probably resulting from anger or nervous tension
- pain due to earache or teething
- If your kids suck their thumb, bite their nails, chew the inside of their cheeks, or gnaw on pencils and toys, there is every chance they may be grinding their teeth at night.
Other signs and symptoms of teeth grinding include:
- grinding sounds while they are asleep
- aching teeth, mostly just after waking up
- aching face or stiff face and temples upon waking up
- aching or stiffness in jaws while chewing, particularly during breakfast
- tooth indentations on the tongue
- raised tissue on the inside of the cheek caused by biting
- loose teeth
- interrupted sleep
Bruxism will often not harm your child’s teeth.
There may not even be any visible effects as it occurs. But early morning earaches and headaches can indicate teeth grinding might be going on. Typical problems resulting from teeth grinding include:
- more wear on the teeth than normal
- wearing down of the tooth enamel
- chipping of the teeth
- tooth loss (which is rare)
- decreased teeth sensitivity to cold and heat
- causing pain to the face or jaw
- jaw muscle enlargement
It’s important to note that bruxism is inheritable. If someone has suffered from teeth grinding at some point, their child is likely to develop it too.
Stopping Involuntary Teeth Grinding in your Kids
As a responsible parent, you can take definite steps to protect your kids from involuntary teeth grinding. A dentist can fit your kids with a mouth guard that keeps your child from grinding their teeth during sleep.
If the cause of teeth grinding is merely a sleeping disorder, treating it may reduce or eliminate the grinding habit.
Other more specific steps to help your kids stop grinding their teeth:
- Ensuring your kids go through less stress, especially just before going to bed.
- Relaxing their muscles through massage and stretching exercises.
- Ensuring their diet includes plenty of water, as dehydration may result in teeth grinding.
- Asking your dentist to monitor your child’s teeth if they grind.
Dentists will likely recommend a mouth guard for a child. Talking to
dentists is essential for knowing the right mouthguard to use.
- Engaging them in physical therapy. It is one of the essential treatment of temporomandibular disorders, according to the American Academy of Craniomandibular Disorders and the Minnesota Dental Association.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help them overcome teeth grinding.
- Preschoolers often need no intervention. But, older children may need temporary crowns or the night guard.
Teeth Grinding Conclusion
With mild or absent effects of teeth grinding, it is best to closely monitor the situation to see if your child will outgrow the habit. Most children stop when permanent teeth replace their baby teeth. Permanent teeth are more sensitive to pain than baby teeth. Your dentist’s office should be a regular port of call if you need help to keep potential problems at bay.
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Annabelle Carter Short is a caregiver, writer and seamstress in her free time. When not working, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal pursuits. Annabelle likes to make DIY projects with her two kids. She also works with few organizations to provide families with the best resources for raising and educating a special needs child.
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