If you’ve ever heard your baby or toddler grind their teeth, you know the sound rivals nails on a chalkboard. You may also wonder exactly why they’re doing it, whether you should be concerned and how to get them to stop.
Childhood Teeth Grinding
The first thing to remember is teeth grinding, or bruxism, in children can be totally normal as they figure out how their mouth and teeth work. It can also be a response to the pain of teething in infants and toddlers.
What Causes Teeth Grinding?
Teeth grinding can happen for many reasons, including:
- Lack of proper muscle control
- Overgrowth of bone around the upper jaw
- Jaw misalignment
- Sleep problems
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Osteogenesis imperfecta
- Marfan syndrome
- Down syndrome
- Cleft lip/palate
- Other medical conditions
Genetics can also play a role in teeth grinding, as can the sleep disorder obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
In most cases, childhood teeth grinding is common in young kids and goes away by adolescence.
If your child is grinding his teeth regularly, there may be more to the situation, such as a jaw development issue or a bite problem. This happens because when the bite is off or the jaw is not developed properly, the body subconsciously tries to move the jaw into the correct position, causing clenching.
Signs of Sleep Bruxism in Children
There are some signs that your child might be grinding his teeth. Here are some things to look for:
- Your child has difficulty sleeping and wakes up with a sore jaw or face.
- He keeps his mouth open while eating, yawning or talking.
- His baby teeth are worn down or chipped.
- He bites his tongue.
- He complains of headaches.
- He has bad breath.
- He has swollen cheeks.
- He has trouble opening his mouth wide.
- He has tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
The Long-Term Impact of Teeth Grinding
If childhood teeth grinding continues, it can lead to a painful jaw disorder known as temporomandibular joint disorder. The temporomandibular joints are made up of two bones: the mandible (lower jaw) and the temporal bone (upper jaw). When these bones become damaged from grinding, they can begin to wear down and eventually fuse together, which causes severe pain and discomfort.
It can also cause dysfunction of the joint, which can lead to loss of use.
The Signs of TMD
If you are suffering from TMD, you may notice one or more of these symptoms:
- Pain in the jaw or temple area
- Difficulty chewing food
- Swelling in the jaw joint area
- Neck stiffness
Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Teeth Grinding
Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that occurs when airway obstruction prevents airflow during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a combination of factors, including:
- Changes in the soft tissues of the throat
- Anatomical abnormalities in the nose, sinuses, palate and neck
- Certain medications
Children who suffer from OSA often wake up feeling tired and have excessive daytime drowsiness. They also tend to snore loudly at night. Obstructive sleep apnea has serious health impacts, including:
- Increased risk of heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Memory impairment
- Poor school performance
- Reduced quality of life
Obstructive sleep apnea can contribute to childhood teeth grinding because, when you can’t breathe, your body subconsciously clenches the jaw to clear your airway.
Treatment Options for Childhood Teeth Grinding in Kids and Teens
It’s important to treat any issues related to teeth grinding immediately. While there isn’t much you can do to prevent it, there are several treatments available to help relieve the symptoms.
- Oral hygiene products like fluoride rinses, floss and brushing can reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease.
- Ice packs can provide temporary relief for pain.
- Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can help ease the pain.
- If the grinding gets worse, talk to your dentist about treatment options.
Do Kids Outgrow Teeth Grinding?
While it’s normal for kids to grind their teeth, if they do so excessively or at night, it could indicate an underlying dental condition that needs attention. In addition to being painful, this behavior can cause damage to the teeth, gums and even the jawbone.
So do kids outgrow grinding their teeth? Yes, but not always. If you have concerns about your child grinding or clenching their teeth at night, call us now to schedule a consultation.