“What can I do about my child's teeth grinding habit?”
It's a common question we get from many concerned parents. Their exasperation involves more than having to wake every night to the annoying sounds coming from their child's bedroom: they're also worried about any potential damage occurring to their teeth.
Teeth grinding and similar habits fall under the umbrella term “bruxism.” In basic terms, bruxism is the involuntary movement of the teeth and jaws not engaged in regular functions like chewing, speaking or swallowing. Bruxism is actually common among pre-adolescent children, considered by many healthcare professionals as normal behavior like thumb sucking.
It's not fully known why children grind their teeth, especially during sleep. Stress can play a part, but many believe it could also be related to immaturity on the part of the neuromuscular system that controls chewing. In some cases it could be linked to sudden arousals from sleep, particularly if the child is prone to airway obstruction causing sleep apnea. And there may be a link with certain medications, especially for hyperactivity disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Most children eventually outgrow the habit. If it persists, though, it can contribute to teeth problems. Teeth can withstand a lot of biting force, but when chronically exposed to the higher than normal forces produced during teeth grinding they can begin to wear. Sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks or similar acidic beverages complicate matters because they increase mouth acid that can soften enamel. And besides dental issues, teeth grinding can also cause jaw problems, ear pain and headaches.
If symptoms begin to appear, we can take steps to reduce the effect of teeth grinding, such as a mouth guard worn at night to reduce biting forces and protect against wear. We can also look at curbing consumption of acidic foods and beverages, addressing possible airway obstructions, changing medications or counseling for psychological stress.
As with thumb sucking, there's no cause for immediate alarm if your children grind their teeth. But if it continues on into their later childhood years or begins to affect their health and well-being, we'll need to intervene to prevent further harm.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding and similar habits, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “When Children Grind their Teeth.”