One of the most common concerns dentists and pediatricians hear from a worried parent is about a child's teeth grinding habit. And no wonder—the unnerving sound this grinding creates can jar awake the soundest sleeper.
Teeth grinding, known as bruxism, is one of a number of dental habits quite prevalent in children under the age of 11. It involves the involuntary grinding, clenching or rubbing of teeth together outside of normal functions like eating or speaking. It can occur during waking hours, but most often occurs during sleep.
We're not quite sure why people grind their teeth, although for adults it seems stress is the main factor. Most health professionals believe children's teeth grinding arises mainly from an immature and changing bite disrupting various stages of sleep.
While a bruxism habit sounds awful—and damaging to teeth—there doesn't appear to be any long-term dental harm if a child grows out of the habit before puberty. Many providers simply advise parents to let it run its course. But it is worth monitoring: Teeth grinding can produce higher than normal biting forces that can wear down or, in extreme cases usually involving dental disease, fracture teeth.
If this becomes a concern, especially if the habit continues into the teen years, there are some ways to alleviate it. One common way is a mouthguard the patient wears in the mouth. This custom-made appliance is made of slick plastic that prevents teeth from making contact with each other during a grinding episode, thus reducing the biting force.
If your child is under high stress or anxiety due to life circumstances, consider therapy, biofeedback or other techniques to diminish stress to help relieve teeth grinding. You might also want to talk with your doctor about treatment alternatives if your child is taking antidepressants, which can contribute to episodes of bruxism.
For the most part, though, the best approach may simply be to keep an eye on a teeth grinding habit and the effect it may have on their teeth and gums. Chances are good your child will simply outgrow it.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding and other forms of bruxism, 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.”