Why Do Kids Grind Their Teeth?

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a common issue faced by children,and their parents, but the exact causes and triggers remain unclear. If you’re a parent wondering why your children are clenching and gnashing their teeth at night or during the day, we hope to provide insight in this blog post into the reasons behind this condition, its prevalence, and the various types observed in this age group.

Let’s explore the symptoms associated with bruxism and emphasize the importance of maintaining good oral health and regular dental check-ups for children. By understanding the underlying factors and effects of teeth grinding, parents and caregivers can take proactive steps to address this concern and promote optimal oral well-being.

What is Teeth Grinding or Bruxism?

Teeth grinding or bruxism is a common condition characterized by the involuntary clenching or grinding of the teeth. It can affect people of all ages, including children. In fact, around 3 out of 10 kids grind their teeth before the age of 5.

Experts believe that children are more prone to teeth grinding due to factors such as misaligned teeth, anxiety, stress, or hyperactivity.

Bruxism in kids can be classified into two types: sleep bruxism, which occurs at night, and awake bruxism, which happens during the day. The first is very common among children, with up to 50% of children experiencing sleep bruxism at one point in their childhood.

While occasional teeth grinding may not cause significant harm, persistent bruxism can lead to dental disorders such as worn and fractured teeth, ear pain, and jaw pain. It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of this medical condition and seek dental advice if their child exhibits signs of bruxism.

Regular dental check-ups and maintaining good oral hygiene are crucial in preventing and managing bruxism in kids.

Common Causes of Teeth Grinding in Children

The habit of grinding teeth in children can be caused by various factors. These include stress and anxiety, the eruption or loss of baby teeth, the presence of braces, and certain medical conditions associated with bruxism.

Below, we explore these factors in a bit more detail so you’ll understand the possible roots of any grinding or clenching of teeth in a child.

Stress

Constant stress is one of the most common risk factors that lead to bruxism in adults, and although we commonly think children are not capable of suffering much from stress compared to older people, it’s a myth that must be put to rest. When children experience stress, whether it be from school, family issues, chores, or other factors, they may inadvertently clench or grind their teeth as a way to cope. This can lead to dental, jaw joint, or mouth pain and discomfort.

Anxiety

One common cause of teeth grinding in both children and adults is the presence of anxiety. While not conclusive, there is very strong evidence to link this psychological factor to bruxism in every age.

Like stress, anxiety can be caused by various factors, such as school pressure, family issues, or social challenges. Some toddlers or very young children can start feeling anxiety as they move out to their own room, for example, or witness a pet getting sick.

Children may also develop anxiety due to certain foods or drinks, such as those containing caffeine or high levels of sugar.

In the case of children and their transition to their teenage years, access to social media has also been a recent issue with anxiety, as they are bombarded with graphic and auditory stimulation, and some inappropriate content that overwhelms even adults.

Baby Teeth Coming in and Going Out

During the transition of baby teeth coming in and falling out, children may experience teeth grinding as a result of the changes happening in their mouths. This is why the age range with the most bruxism in children is 7 to 10, but it can occur at several stages in infancy and childhood.

As their baby teeth start to erupt, children often feel discomfort or pain, leading them to grind their teeth as a way to alleviate discomfort.

Similarly, when their baby teeth fall out and permanent teeth begin to emerge, children may also grind due to teeth shifting and moving in their mouths.

It is important to note that teeth grinding during this phase can potentially damage tooth enamel or lead to long-term effects and dental issues. Therefore, it is crucial to monitor and address any teeth-grinding in children to ensure they maintain good oral hygiene practices.

Braces

Braces, can cause discomfort and pain, leading to teeth grinding. The pressure of the braces on the teeth and jaws can result in bruxism.

Other Medical Conditions Associated With Bruxism in Children

There are several medical conditions that have been associated specifically with bruxism in children.

Understanding these common causes can help parents and healthcare professionals identify and address the underlying issues contributing to teeth grinding in children.

Cerebral Palsy

Children with cerebral palsy often experience bruxism due to the muscle spasms and involuntary movements associated with their condition. Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and coordination, leading to difficulty in controlling jaw movements.

This can result in grinding or clenching of the teeth, especially during sleep. It is essential for caregivers of children with cerebral palsy to be aware of this condition and seek appropriate dental care to prevent any potential dental problems.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Teeth grinding, or bruxism can be associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a common medical condition in children. Children with ADHD often experience difficulties with impulse control and hyperactivity, which can manifest through teeth grinding.

The constant grinding can lead to the wearing down of the tooth enamel and cause dental issues and facial pain.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can contribute to teeth grinding in children, as well as other medical conditions associated with bruxism. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia can disrupt a child’s sleep, causing them to grind their teeth during sleep. Many of these sleep disorders have been observed in children with ADHD, but no concrete link has been found yet.

Misaligned Teeth or Mixed Dentition

One common cause of teeth grinding in kids is the presence of misaligned teeth or mixed dentition. When the permanent teeth begin to come in, they are often misaligned with the existing baby teeth, causing an abnormal bite.

This can lead to grinding and clenching of the teeth, especially at bedtime.

Tooth sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is another factor that can lead to grinding. When children have sensitive teeth, they may grind their teeth in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort. Their sensitivity can be a result of a chipped tooth because of an accident, inadequate brushing techniques that might damage the enamel, or even a filling that might be misapplied.

Signs, Complications, and Symptoms of Teeth Grinding in Kids

Teeth grinding in kids can be identified through various signs and symptoms. The most obvious one is tooth damage or tooth loss, but this is a sign of an acute condition that requires more invasive dental care. There are other signs and symptoms that can help you or a health professional detect tooth grinding in your children before the more severe negative effects take hold.

Sounds of Grinding Teeth During Sleep

The audible grinding noises produced during sleep are one of the most known and universal symptoms of bruxism in children. These sounds can be quite alarming for parents, but it is important to understand that they are often a common condition in children, harmless and temporary. Nonetheless, if this symptom persists for more than a few days or weeks, then it would be time to take it seriously.

Problems Sleeping and Feeling Tired in the Morning

Sleep disturbances are often observed in children with tooth grinding, presenting as a significant sign and symptom of this condition. When children grind their teeth during sleep, it can disrupt their ability to get a good night’s rest.

They may experience difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, or even nightmares. These sleep disturbances can lead to daytime fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, affecting their overall well-being and quality of life.

Loss of Tooth and Worn Tooth Enamel

Children with bruxism may experience a noticeable loss of tooth structure and worn enamel. This can be a concerning issue for parents, as it can lead to dental problems and affect the overall oral health of their child.

The constant grinding and clenching of teeth can wear down the enamel, the protective outer dental layer, making it more susceptible to decay and sensitivity. The excessive force exerted during teeth grinding can also lead to the loss of tooth structure, resulting in weakened, potentially broken teeth.

If left untreated, these short-term effects will be permanent and can require extensive dental work in the future.

Jaw Muscles and Joint Damage

Jaw muscles and joint damage are common signs and symptoms of teeth grinding in pediatric patients. When children grind their teeth, the excessive force exerted on their jaw muscles and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can lead to various issues, including temporomandibular joint disorder.

Children may experience jaw pain, stiffness, or soreness, especially upon waking up in the morning. They may also have difficulty opening or closing their mouth fully and may even hear clicking or popping sounds when they move their jaw.

In severe cases, teeth grinding can cause damage to the TMJ, leading to headaches, earaches, and even changes in facial appearance, along with painful chewing. When left untreated these symptoms can become chronic and can have long term effects on quality of life.

Facial Pain and Headaches

Facial pain and headaches are common indicators of teeth grinding in pediatric patients. These symptoms often occur due to the excessive pressure and tension placed on the jaw muscles and joints during teeth grinding. The facial pain can also be accompanied by headaches, ranging from mild to severe.

Sensitivity to Hot and Cold Foods

Sensitivity to hot and cold foods can be an indication of teeth grinding in pediatric patients. When children grind their teeth, it can lead to enamel erosion, which in turn can cause sensitivity to temperature changes in the mouth. This means that consuming hot or cold foods and beverages may cause discomfort or pain.

Abnormal bite or Misaligned Teeth

This is a risk factor that can also be a long-term effect of bruxism.

Teeth grinding in children can potentially lead to complications such as misaligned permanent teeth. The repeated grinding and clenching of the teeth can cause them to shift, resulting in bite issues or a bad bite position.

Treatment for Sleep Bruxism in Children

When it comes to treating sleep bruxism in children, there are several options to consider.

Night Guards and Mouth Guards

One commonly used treatment for sleep bruxism in children is the use of night guards or mouth guards. These devices are designed to protect the teeth and prevent further damage caused by grinding or clenching during sleep.

Night guards and mouth guards are typically made of a soft, flexible material that is comfortable to wear. They are custom-fitted to each child’s mouth by a dentist or orthodontist.

By wearing a night guard or mouth guard, children with sleep bruxism can reduce the impact of grinding on their teeth and jaw muscles. This treatment option not only protects the teeth but also helps to alleviate any associated pain or discomfort.
It is important for parents to consult with a dental professional to determine the best course of treatment for their child’s sleep bruxism.

Improved Sleep Hygiene

To address sleep bruxism in children, an effective treatment approach is to focus on improving their sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to the habits and practices that promote good quality sleep.

By establishing a consistent bedtime routine, ensuring a comfortable sleep environment, and promoting relaxation techniques before sleep, children can experience better sleep and reduce the likelihood of teeth grinding during the night.

You must create a calming bedtime routine that nurtures a relaxed atmosphere in the bedroom, free from distractions and stimulating activities. Also, limiting screen time before bed and encouraging regular exercise during the day can contribute to better sleep hygiene.

Stress Relief and Regular Exercise

Implementing stress relief techniques and incorporating regular exercise can be effective ways to treat sleep bruxism in children.

Stress is a common trigger for teeth grinding, and finding healthy ways to manage stress can help alleviate the symptoms. Teaching children relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and meditation or engaging in calming activities like reading or listening to soothing music can help reduce stress levels.

Regular physical exercise can help release tension and promote better sleep, which in turn can reduce the likelihood of teeth grinding during the night. Encouraging children to participate in activities they enjoy, such as sports or dance, can provide a healthy outlet for stress and contribute to their overall well-being.

It is important to remember that each child is unique, so finding the right stress relief techniques and exercise routines may require some trial and error. Consulting with a healthcare professional can provide further guidance in developing an effective treatment plan.

Always Visit Your Child’s Dentist First

It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with teeth grinding in kids and to prioritize regular visits to a pediatric dentist.

By understanding the causes and effects of bruxism, appropriate measures can be taken to address this issue and promote optimal oral health in children.

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