Compared to cavities, chipped teeth, and gum disease, many don’t count grinding teeth among the most serious dental problems. But if you’ve noticed the habit in your child, there can be some cause for concern. Untreated grinding of the teeth can lead to a range of dental problems — so it’s important to take steps to address this issue.
If you’re wondering why kids grind their teeth and what to do about it, this overview can help. Learning about the causes and potential treatments can help your child keep a healthy and happy smile.
What is Tooth Grinding?
Tooth grinding, or bruxism, occurs when there is tension in the jaw that causes the teeth to rub or grind against each other. While this happens to most people occasionally, particularly if there is an elevated level of stress or anxiety, it can also become a chronic condition. As many as 30% of young children may grind their teeth to some extent.
Younger children and toddlers may grind their teeth as a response to teething and growth spurts but will typically grow out of the behavior. If grinding of the teeth continues into older childhood and adolescence, it could be related to other causes.
What Causes Tooth Grinding?
If you notice your child frequently clenching their jaw or grinding their teeth while sleeping, it could be related to any of the following causes:
- Problems with tooth or jaw alignment
- Pain related to an earache, toothache, or growth
- Medical conditions, including cerebral palsy or hyperactivity
- Certain medications
- Excessive caffeine intake
- Stress and anxiety, potentially caused by changes in routine, school-related worries, and social friction with friends or family
If you have noticed any recent behavioral changes in your child that may be contributing to the issue, it is important to discuss with your doctor or pediatric dentist.
Complications Related to Grinding Teeth
While teeth grinding can seem like a relatively minor problem, it can cause several potential complications that can negatively impact oral health. These can include:
- Jaw pain and stiffness
- Worn down enamel
- Sensitive teeth
- Chipped teeth
- Facial pain
By seeing a pediatric dentist to diagnose and treat bruxism, you can lessen tension on the teeth and jaw and prevent more serious issues from developing.
Diagnosing and Treating Tooth Grinding
During an examination of a child’s teeth, pediatric dentists take the following steps to identify the underlying cause of bruxism:
- Perform a thorough visual and hands-on evaluation to check for signs of wear and chips in the enamel
- Measure jaw and bite alignment
- Take diagnostic X-rays to check for impacted teeth, cavities, and other issues
- Perform a sensitivity test using controlled jets of air and water
In some cases, dentists may recommend continuing to monitor the condition to see if children grow out of grinding their teeth, especially younger children. If a medication or condition is believed to be the source of bruxism, you may be recommended to see your child’s pediatrician to discuss alternative medications or potential treatments.
One of the most common treatment recommendations is a mouthguard or night guard. These mouthpieces are custom-made to fit a child’s mouth and will limit tooth grinding and wear on the teeth and jaw, particularly at night. In many situations, clenching and grinding during the day can also be reduced by reducing the habit at night.
If your child has a more extensive misalignment in the teeth and jaw that is causing tooth grinding, an evaluation to discuss orthodontic treatments may also be beneficial, depending on age.
How to Help Your Child Overcome Grinding their Teeth
In addition to recommended treatments, parents should take steps at home to address underlying causes and create a calm and relaxing environment. For children who grind their teeth at night, taking a warm shower or bath, listening to soothing music, or reading a calming book can help. If school or social-related stress or anxiety is the cause, discuss the problem with your child and find productive ways to relieve or reduce the stress. Talk to your doctor about any solutions to potential behavioral or psychological issues in your child.
Keep Your Family’s Teeth Healthy with the Help of AC Pediatric Dentistry
Going to the dentist can be scary — we get it. But it should be fun! Whether it’s care for baby teeth, big kid teeth, oral surgery, or orthodontics, our team of specialized pediatric dentists make the experience memorable while teaching you how to encourage healthy habits and good hygiene for lifelong smiles. Call us today or request an appointment online. We can’t wait to meet you!