Why Is My Child Grinding Their Teeth At Night?

Contents: What is Bruxism? | Why it happens | Effects of Teeth Grinding | How is Bruxism Diagnosed? | Treatment Options

Bruxism is clenching or grinding your teeth in your sleep. Have you ever heard or noticed your child making crunching, squeaking or popping sounds with their teeth while they are sleeping? They may be grinding their teeth during sleep. As jarring and worrisome as it may seem, teeth grinding, also called bruxism, affects 2 to 3 out of every 10 kids. It usually happens when baby teeth emerge and when permanent teeth come in, and it usually goes away on its own.


Why do kids grind their teeth at night?

Although experts aren’t always able to pin-point exactly why, there are several reasons why it happens, including:

  • Misalignment in the upper and lower teeth.
  • Behavioral problems like ADHD or hyperactivity.
  • Certain medical conditions.
  • The child is worried, tense, or angry with regards to their school and family life.

Genetics also plays a role in this condition. If a child’s family members have experienced this condition there is a good chance the child will also.




The Effects

For the most part, this condition usually goes undetected and causes no problems and the child outgrows the habit. Sometimes, when it continues to occur to permanent teeth and adulthood the following effects could be expected:

  • Headaches or earaches
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Flattened, chipped, misshapen or broken tooth, or other signs of teeth grinding
  • Facial pain
  • Increased sensitivity to hot and cold
  • TMJ or other jaw problems
  • Behavioral problems
  • Lack of restful sleep


“Although we can not assume that tooth grinding causes withdrawn behaviors or problems in school, the dynamic relation between tooth grinding and pre-school adjustment indicate that there may be clinical relevance to tooth grinding beyond being a symptom of bruxism,” said Salvatore P. Insana, of West Virginia University, first author of the study.


Diagnosing Bruxism

Since this medical condition occurs when your child is sleeping they will probably not be aware they are doing it. It is usually the parent or sibling who notice it happening. Sometimes there may be soreness in the jaw or pain when opening or closing the mouth. A dental expert will examine your child and look for tenderness in the jaw muscles, broken or missing teeth, and other tell-tale damage to the teeth, underlying bone or even the inside of the cheeks.

More about Effects of thumb sucking for your child.


Treating Bruxism

If a child does not outgrow it, this condition could last until adulthood and the best treatment for it is to prevent it from causing other problems. Here are tips for managing the condition and preventing long term effects.

Nightguard – A custom nightguard or mouth guard can be made to fit perfectly over the teeth. Similar to what athlethes wear to protect their teeth during sports, a night guard serves as a protective buffer between the upper and lower sets of teeth during nighttime grinding. .

Relaxation before sleep – If physical or psychological factors are causing your child’s clenching, allowing extra time to unwind and de-stress before bedtime can really make a difference. Doing activities like taking a warm bath, reading a book together, or even listening to soothing, relaxing music can help.

Get straight to the issue – Talk to your child and see if there is something bothering them or causing anxiety, and find out how you can alleviate that stressor.

Enamel-strengthening toothpaste – This type, while it won’t end the grinding of teeth itself, it can aid in minimizing enamel wear and tooth damage.

Check medications – Prescription and over the counter medication can sometimes cause this condition. Talk with the doctor or dentist about possibly changing their medication.


Learn more about Kids Teeth Development


Factors associated to bruxism in children from 4-6 years – National Library of Medicine

Prevalence of sleep bruxism in children: A systematic review (2014)


Category: Pediatric


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