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What to Do About Children Who Grind Their Teeth

You may associate teeth grinding with life’s daily grind. After all, many adults clench or grind their teeth due to stress. However, nighttime gnashing seems to be most common in kids.

According to BMJ Group, 20 percent of the adult population report awake bruxism—commonly known as teeth grinding—and sleeping bruxism is self-reported as follows: • 14 to 18 percent in children • 8 to 10 percent in adults • 3 percent in older people

Other sources reflect this finding. Children do, in fact, have the highest prevalence of bruxism, according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine. The number has been reported to be as high as 38 percent, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Dentistry for Children cited by babycenter.com.

Finding the problem

When you check in on your child at night, listen for gnashing and grinding. Other signs may include complaints of headaches or earaches. Pay attention to any discomfort your child mentions and look for patterns. This will be helpful when talking to the doctor or dentist.

Looking at the cause and effect

Potential causes of childhood teeth grinding, according to the ADA, include: • Stress • Irritation in the mouth • Allergies • Misaligned teeth

In addition to headaches and earaches, KidsHealth.org lists the following nighttime grinding effects in children: • Worn tooth enamel • Chipped teeth • Increased temperature sensitivity • Severe facial pain and jaw problems, including temporomandibular joint disorder with chronic grinding

Bringing grinding to a halt

Here are three things you can do to address childhood teeth grinding:

  1. Talk to your child’s dentist
  2. As stated above, treatment may not be necessary. However, in certain cases and with older children, he or she may recommend a nighttime mouth guard for protection.

  3. Encourage relaxation.
  4. KidsHealth.com suggests reading stories, listening to music, and/or taking a warm bath or shower before bedtime. You might also sit with your child and practice relaxing breathing techniques. Refer to Livestrong.com’s “Deep Breathing Exercises for Kids” for ideas. Inner Health Studio provides a useful relaxation script aimed at children.

  5. Discuss it with the pediatrician.
  6. He or she can help you rule out more serious causes and help determine a course of action. Your child may be experiencing significant stress or anxiety that could benefit from therapy or other treatment.

    The American Dental Association says that because kids experience change and growth quickly, it is usually not a damaging habit requiring treatment. Most outgrow the habit by adolescence.

    However, as stated above, teeth grinding can signal other problems that should be addressed promptly. Make sure you schedule your child’s recommended twice-yearly dental checkups and annual visit to the pediatrician.



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