Why is my child grinding his/her teeth?

March 28, 2019 | by Therese Gracey, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

If you notice a grating or grinding sound while your baby sleeps, don’t panic. While the sound may be disturbing to you, your child is probably just fine.

Regular tooth grinding, or bruxism, is very common in toddlers and preschoolers. About a third of children grind their teeth at some point, but almost all of them will outgrow the habit.

Typically, teeth grinding starts at about age 3 and stops at age 6, around the time when kids begin to lose their baby teeth, although a few children continue to grind into adolescence.

Adults grind their teeth, too. As adults, we may grind our teeth, or clench our jaws, when stressed or angry. Children, on the other hand, often grind in response to teething, pain from an ear infection, or improper alignment of the teeth. A cold or allergies may also play a role.

Teeth grinding mostly happens at night, and your child may be more likely to grind if he/she drools or talks in his/her sleep.

In most cases, teeth grinding sounds worse than it is. Because a child’s teeth and jaw change and grow so quickly, and the habit usually goes away before permanent teeth are in, teeth grinding in children is unlikely to cause damage.

But as your child gets older, and for some adults, stress-induced teeth grinding can cause issues. Sometimes grinding and clenching may cause a sore jaw or face after waking up in the morning, headaches or earaches, or pain with chewing. In some cases, it can also wear down tooth enamel on teeth. Some older kids develop temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ) from repeatedly clenching their jaw.

What can you do about it?

Many babies and children outgrow teeth grinding naturally and it doesn’t require treatment. Still, you can try some things at home to help your child if you notice teeth grinding:

  • Offer your baby a teething toy/ring to gnaw on. You can make one by wetting a washcloth and folding it into quarters, then freezing it for a few hours.
  • Practice a calming bedtime routine. Give your child a warm bath or shower, listen to soothing music or read a book together before bed.
  • Talk with your child regularly about his/her feelings and ways to manage stress.
  • Keep up with your child’s regular dental visits. Infants should have their first dental appointment when the first tooth appears, or at least by their first birthday.

When should you call the doctor?

Teeth grinding is usually a temporary condition that will go away on its own. If your child continues grinding after all his/her teeth come in, develops pain or soreness, or if you have any concerns, check with your child’s dentist. The dentist can check your child’s teeth for any changes. In cases where grinding and clenching make a child's face and jaw sore or damages the teeth, the dentist may prescribe a special night guard to prevent tooth damage.

Is your child a teeth grinder? Tell us in the below comments.

Need a primary care doctor for your child? Edward-Elmhurst Health has hundreds of board-certified physicians to choose from. You can book online today to set up your first appointment.

Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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