What is Bruxism?
Bruxism is the medical term for the grinding of teeth or the clenching of jaws. Bruxism in children is fairly common, with research showing that 20-30% of children will grind or clench their teeth. The good news is that because their teeth and jaws change and grow so quickly, it is not usually a damaging habit that will require treatment. In fact, most kids will outgrow bruxism by adolescence. Here’s what you need to know about bruxism and what you can do for your child.
Causes of Bruxism
Bruxism often happens during deep sleep phases or when kids are under stress. Experts aren’t always sure why bruxism happens, but some causes may be:
- Improper alignment of the top and bottom teeth
- A way to ease pain, such as from an earache or teething
- Stress— usually nervous tension or anger. For instance, a child might worry about a test at school, an argument with a sibling or parent or a change in routine, such as a new sibling or a new teacher.
- Irritation in the mouth
- Other medical conditions such as cerebral palsy or certain medications
Effects of Bruxism
Many cases of bruxism go undetected with no ill effects, while others cause headaches or earaches. In some cases, nighttime grinding and clenching can wear down tooth enamel, chip teeth, increase temperature sensitivity, and cause severe facial pain and jaw problems, such as temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ). Most kids who grind, however, don’t have TMJ problems unless their grinding and clenching happen a lot.
Many kids who grind their teeth aren’t even aware of it, so it’s often siblings or parents who identify the problem.
Signs and symptoms of bruxism may include:
- Grinding noises when your child is sleeping
- Complaints of a sore jaw or face after waking up in the morning
- Pain with chewing
- Chipped teeth or wearing down of their tooth enamel
If you think your child is grinding his or her teeth, let your pediatric dentist know so they can examine their teeth for chipped enamel and unusual wear and tear, and check for unusual sensitivity.
If damage is found, the dentist may ask your child a few questions, such as:
- How do you feel before bed?
- Are you worried about anything at home or school?
- Are you angry with someone?
- What do you do before bed?
The exam will help the dentist see whether the cause is anatomical (misaligned teeth) or psychological (stress) and come up with an effective treatment plan.
Helping Children with Bruxism
Because some bruxism is a child’s natural reaction to growth and development, most cases can’t be prevented. Whether the cause is physical or psychological, kids might be able to control bruxism by:
- Relaxing before bedtime by taking a warm bath or shower, listening to a few minutes of soothing music, or reading a book.
- Talking regularly about their feelings to help them deal with stress.
- Taking kids for routine dental visits to diagnose and treat bruxism.
If basic stress relievers aren’t enough to stop bruxism, your dentist or doctor may suggest further evaluation. This can help find the cause of the stress and a proper course of treatment.
How Long Does Bruxism Last?
Most kids stop grinding when they lose their baby teeth. However, a few kids do continue to grind into adolescence. And if the bruxism is caused by stress, it will continue until the stress eases.
If you notice that your child is grinding his or her teeth — or has other signs or symptoms of bruxism — be sure to mention it at your child’s next dental appointment so we can diagnose the issue and provide you with the best treatment plan for your child.
Sources: KidsHealth.org, American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), Colgate.com, Mayo Clinic, American Dental Association (ADA)