What’s a parent to do when the gentle sounds of deep breathing from a sleeping child are replaced by the noise of their teeth grinding together? First, don’t panic. Bruxism – the term for teeth grinding and jaw clenching – is fairly common in children, and it often goes away on its own.
A study of 854 patients ages 17 and younger found that about 38 percent had either daytime or sleep bruxism, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
It can be difficult to diagnose bruxism in children if you don’t hear them grinding or see them clenching. Many kids don’t realize they grind their teeth when they sleep, or clench their jaws when they’re awake. In addition to catching them in the act, you also can listen for complaints of sore jaws, discomfort when chewing, headaches and earaches. All of these could be signs of bruxism.
Why Children Grind
There are several reasons why children grind their teeth or clench their jaws during sleep, but it isn’t always possible to determine the root cause in every case. Sometimes children may grind because the teeth in the upper and lower jaws don’t align properly. An earache or an erupting tooth may cause children to grind in their sleep as a response to pain and a method of easing the discomfort, sort of like rubbing a tight muscle to make it feel better.
Stress and Bruxism
Emotional stress and anxiety can lead children to clench and grind their teeth, which in turn contributes to orofacial pain, according to the AAPD. You can help your children by giving them tools to deal appropriately with stress.
In some cases, bruxism can lead to more serious oral health problems, such as temporomandibular joint disorders. Helping children manage their stress and anxiety can help lessen the signs and symptoms of TMD, the AAPD states.
What to do if You Think Your Child has Bruxism
As we stated earlier, the majority of children eventually will grow out of this habit. If it seems to be a habit that is hanging on, call us to schedule an appointment. We can conduct an examination, offer a diagnosis and recommend treatment if necessary. Sometimes a mouth guard worn at night provides proper cushioning to protect the teeth from the harmful effects of grinding, and to prevent jaw soreness the next morning.
Please call our office if you have additional questions about bruxism.