Teeth Grinding (Bruxism) In Children

Little girl baring her teeth

Instead of listening to the sweet sound of your child’s breath while sleeping, have you ever heard their precious pearly whites grate against each other? Ever noticed your child grinding his teeth while asleep? This is known as bruxism, and some of the issues involved include jaw and face pain.

How Common is Bruxism in Children?

Bruxism is common in children, with experts saying that 38% children would have been teeth grinders at some point in time. Children between the age group of 3 ½ years and six years are most likely to experience them. The exact extent of Bruxism is still unclear as a child grinding teeth at night may not even be aware that they are doing it.

Tired school-boy sitting alone with his head down

Causes of Bruxism in Kids

Experts are still unclear about what triggers Bruxism; however, there are some suspects.

  • Anxiety

A child grinding its teeth while sleeping can be attributed to negative emotions such as stress and could be a coping mechanism.

  • Teething

Teething has been linked to teeth grinding in toddlers. They tend to do this because it helps ease the pain, just like we use our hands to soothe sore muscles.

  • Malocclusion

This is the imperfect alignment of the teeth that can cause irritation when the jaw is closed. Studies have shown that there is a strong connection between Malocclusion and Bruxism, with 12.75 % children having both conditions.

  • Pinworms

A study conducted showed that there was a relationship between pinworms and Bruxism. It is inferred that intestinal parasites release toxins that lead to nervousness and anxiety, thereby leading to teeth grinding.

  • Allergies

A study conducted has partially linked allergies to Bruxism. Researchers suspect that irritation in the inner ear can lead to children grinding their teeth to ease the discomfort.

  • Reaction To Certain Medication

A study conducted showed that children who were given drugs such as anti-depressants and anti-psychotics showed an increase in Bruxism. It is perceived that changes in the neurotransmission are responsible for teeth grinding.

Symptoms of Teeth Grinding in Kids

Some of the symptoms in children suffering from Bruxism include:

  • They have difficulty eating food as their teeth hurt while they chew.
  • You notice that your child has chipped teeth even though they have not had any injury.
  • Your child complains about problems such as jaw ache, earache and overall pain in the face.
  • You can hear teeth grinding sounds while your child is asleep.
  • The child complains of a lingering but dull pain in the forehead.

How Long can it Last?

Most children grow out of it. They stop grinding their teeth by the time their permanent teeth develop. However, there are instances when grinding teeth can be observed in older kids. This is most likely due to anxiety and will stop once the source of anxiety is addressed. It has also been noted that children who have emotional problems such as aggressive behaviour also have an increased risk of prolonged Bruxism.

Researchers have found it difficult to give a proper estimate on how long it lasts as many children grind their teeth unknowingly. It is also observed that in many cases parents have become aware of the problem only after the physical symptoms have reached an unbearable stage.

Side Effects of Bruxism

  • The pulp region of the teeth is exposed.
  • Cavities that are already present can get worse due to constant grinding.
  • Fractures can occur in the jaw area.
  • Scraping away of the enamel may lead to teeth becoming sensitive to temperature.
  • Some children may experience pain in the jaw area which is known as a Temporomandibular joint disorder.
  • Any reconstructive work that may have been done on the teeth could get destroyed by constant grinding.

Little girl holding her jaw in pain

Treatment for Teeth Grinding in Children

  • Children must deal with stress at school concerning studies and friendships. Find activities that put your child at ease, especially before they sleep as that’s when the grinding starts. You could start with having a heart-to-heart chat, setting up a nice hot water bath and finally reading them a bedtime story. Make this a routine, and it should help reduce the incidence of teeth grinding.
  • Be involved in their life and try to figure out the source of anxiety. This means talking to your child, regularly attending PTA meetings and figuring out the cause of their problem.
  • Anxiety in children could be attributed to academics or relationships. If they have problems in academics, you can help them study subjects that they find difficult to tackle. If they have problems making new friends, you could organise play dates with the neighbouring kids.
  • If the pain caused due to teeth grinding is too much, you can apply a warm compress on your child’s cheek.
  • Ear infections can cause children to grind their teeth to alleviate the pain. Give them medication such as Acetaminophen or ibuprofen so that the pain subsides. However, be sure to give the medicine at the required dosage and only if your child is over six months old.
  • Pacifiers help in reducing the damaging effects of Bruxism as teeth grinding is halted. The soft rubbery nipple helps accommodate the need for sucking and has been known to calm children that are anxious. However, prolonged usage, especially after permanent teeth have grown can lead to dental problems.
  • Children who have poorly aligned teeth might find it difficult to close their mouth, and hence they inevitably start grinding their teeth. In such a case, a visit to the dentist is required for corrective dental treatment.
  • Yoga and meditation are used by people around the world to manage stress, and the same can be applied to your child.
  • If your child is a Star Wars fan, make them try the Darth Vader breathing exercise. First, they need to inhale with their nose while keeping the mouth closed. Then, they exhale slowly while producing a Darth Vader type sound with their throat.

Important Things to Remember

Little girl smiling while playing on a swing

  • Balanced Diet

Bruxism has been linked to poor nutrition, and it is considered that a deficiency of calcium and magnesium may be the cause. Since these elements help in the proper functioning of the nervous system, a lack of them may induce teeth grinding. Make sure that your child has enough milk, spinach and other green leafy vegetables included in their diet.

  • Night Guard

This is a device that is kept inside the mouth to prevent the teeth from touching each other. It can be applied just before going to sleep and removed the following morning. However, dentists do not recommend this approach unless a child has their permanent teeth in place.

  • Exercise

Exercise can help in reducing stress as it helps in the production of endorphin, a natural painkiller. This reduction in stress can help reduce teeth grinding.

  • Miscellaneous

In case you are not able to do anything to stop the grinding, do not hesitate to consult a doctor.

It is unfortunate that researchers don’t have a satisfactory explanation for teeth grinding. However, the good news is that in most cases the condition disappears soon after it arrives. Only a handful of cases exist where dental intervention may be required. The best that you can do to prevent teeth grinding is to make sure that your child lives in a stress-free environment.

Also Read:

Braces for Kids Teeth
Herpetic Gingivostomatitis in Kids
Bad Habits in Kids and Ways to Deal With Them