There is nothing quite as sweet as a sleeping child, blissfully quiet and relaxed. However, that’s not the reality for all parents.
There are some parents who encounter a grinding or gnashing sound when they walk into their sleeping child’s room. To most parents, this can be alarming, since it can even seem like the child is in some sort of distress.
This all-too-common sound is most often related to bruxism—or teeth grinding—and is not at all unusual to find in children.
You might be familiar with adults grinding their teeth. Many times, this is the manifestation of stress. As parents, we all hope our children are not experiencing the levels of stress associated with perpetual teeth grinding. Adults grind their teeth during intense periods of work or never-ending traffic, however, and children don’t suffer the same pressures.
Teeth grinding often occurs after children develop their first teeth or after they develop their permanent teeth. The habit usually stops after the adult teeth are fully formed and erupted. The different heights and sizes of teeth in a mixed dentition cause the natural instinct to want to make the child’s bite feel balanced. And so the body reacts by wanting to even out the taller teeth with the shorter teeth, and grinding begins.
Below we’ll outline how teeth grinding manifests in children, its causes and potential damage it can do to the mouth. If you are concerned that your child might be grinding his or her teeth, visit a children’s dentist today so we can work to create a treatment plan to prevent permanent damage.
Is bruxism common in children?
It’s estimated that 14-17% of children have signs of bruxism, while even higher numbers—up to 30%—might experience it intermittently, cases where parents don’t often notice.
Children who grind usually begin at 4-8 years of age, and the numbers increase between 10-14 years of age, and then start declining after age 14. It can begin as soon as a child’s upper and lower teeth have come through the gums. Around one third of children with bruxism will still have it when they are adults. However, for children that do experience symptoms, experts believe it’s not out of the ordinary, and most will actually out-grow it.
What causes bruxism in children?
Experts aren’t always sure why bruxism happens. In some cases, kids might grind because the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly. Others do it as a response to pain, such as from an earache or teething. Kids might grind their teeth as a way to ease that pain, just as they might rub a sore muscle. Many kids outgrow these fairly common causes for grinding.
However, just like adults, some children grind their teeth as a response to stress or anxiety. One study examined almost 2,000 preschoolers and concluded that tooth grinding has a correlation with pre-school performance. Withdrawn behavior is also usually present.
Finally, children who exhibit hyperactive behaviors are more likely to grind their teeth as well. Children who take medication to help with ADHD symptoms are even more likely to suffer.
Since the child often is unaware that they are grinding their teeth, it takes an external party to notice. If you are concerned that your child might be grinding at night, look for symptoms such as grinding noise while sleeping, complaints of a sore or stiff jaw in the morning or pain when chewing.
Your dentist will also be able to identify the problem by looking for chipped enamel and any wear and tear on the teeth that’s out of the ordinary. Once diagnosed, a mouth guard may be given to help prevent the teeth and relieve sore jaws. These mouth guards will be molded to the child’s teeth to ensure a perfect fit. While it may take some time to get used to, it’s important to wear it daily to prevent irreversible damage to the teeth.
Can it be prevented?
After bruxism is diagnosed, it’s important to take a look at the child’s stress level and any external factors that could be causing the issue. Practice good sleep habits and address school stressors to lower the incidence of teeth grinding. And remember, most kids outgrow bruxism, so often it may just take time for it to fully resolve.
If you’re in Arlington, Texas, swing by our local Arlington family dentist office if you spot any signs that your child might have bruxism.