Understanding Bruxism in Children

Have you noticed that your child’s teeth seem to be wearing unevenly? If your child’s smile seems to be showing unusual signs of wear and tear along with sensitivity, headaches, and jaw pain, your child may have bruxism or teeth grinding. 

What is bruxism or teeth grinding?

Bruxism is an oral habit that typically involves teeth grinding, gnashing, and jaw clenching. It’s a common problem for all ages, but it tends to affect young kids most often.

The exact number of bruxism cases is tricky to determine since it can happen on occasion and kids can outgrow the habit. It’s estimated that as many as half of all kids will experience bruxism at some point during their childhood.

What’s unique about most cases of bruxism in youngsters is that it tends to occur at night! It isn’t uncommon for parents to watch their child peacefully sleep and suddenly notice that they seem to be grinding their teeth or clenching their jaw. 

Why is my child grinding their teeth?

While tooth decay can be to blame for a cavity and toothache, finding the underlying cause of bruxism in kids isn’t usually so simple. Teeth grinding can be due to a physical problem, an emotional problem, or a combination of both.

Kids who are already in pain — perhaps from an unrelated health condition — may grind their teeth as a coping mechanism. Chronic tooth decay can also cause kids to grind and clench their teeth because of the discomfort.

The process of gaining baby teeth or adult teeth can often trigger bruxism as well. Crooked teeth and a misaligned bite can also be to blame. 

Emotional stress, anxiety, depression, overactivity, and many behavioral conditions can also cause bruxism to become habitual. Just like how you might clench your teeth and jaw during a stressful moment at work, kids can often react in the same manner.

How can I tell if my child has bruxism?

The most noticeable symptom of bruxism in kids is visually witnessing your child grinding their teeth. As mentioned, this often happens at night, but you might also notice them doing this throughout the day. 

Teeth grinding isn’t the only sign your child has bruxism, though. Some other common symptoms include:

  • Pain or sensitivity when eating
  • Sudden sensitivity to hot or cold foods and drinks
  • Unexplained headaches, earaches, and jaw soreness
  • Damage and uneven wearing on teeth
  • Chipping or craze lines (hairline cracks) on teeth
  • Audible grinding and popping noises

If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, a trip to their friendly pediatric dentist is in order.

Can bruxism be prevented?

Bruxism usually isn’t preventable, and parents absolutely shouldn’t feel as though they’re to blame for their child’s teeth grinding. Aside from seeking professional treatment from a pediatric dentist, there are a few things parents can do to help alleviate their child’s symptoms.

If your child’s teeth grinding comes from stress and anxiety, talk to them about what’s happening and see what you can do to help. Reaching out to a counselor can be a fantastic solution if your child has a tough time opening up. Do what you can at home to create a more peaceful environment and help them relax by reading them a book, taking a bubble bath, or playing a game together.

Your child’s pediatric dentist will also give you valuable advice on curbing and preventing bruxism symptoms or further teeth damage.

How is bruxism treated in kids?

There are three main ways bruxism is treated in kids, and oftentimes pediatric dentists will recommend some combination of all three!

In most cases, your child’s dentist will recommend using night guards. Night guards are special mouthpieces that look like a retainer. They prevent grinding and damage by stopping the upper teeth from physically touching the bottom teeth. Regardless of what’s caused your child’s bruxism, these beneficial night guards are frequently used.

If your child’s bruxism is being caused by a misaligned bite, their dentist may also recommend orthodontic treatment as a long-term solution. Soft night guards can often still be used, even while your child is wearing braces. This combination ensures your child’s teeth are being properly aligned and protected in the meantime.

Finally, your child’s dentist may give you some useful instructions for lifestyle changes, similar to what was discussed in the bruxism prevention section. 

What can I do as a parent?

Discovering that your child has bruxism can be quite alarming for some parents, especially if there is already evidence of teeth damage or bite misalignment. Consider that a diagnosis of bruxism is actually a blessing in disguise. You now have an answer to your child’s symptoms and can move forward with the help of the We Make Kids Smile dental team.

The first step as a parent is to reach out to a skilled, dedicated pediatric dentist. Bruxism in children is unique, and treatment options used for adults may not always be the best choice. For these reasons, we welcome parents to seek out a consultation with us if their child is still being seen by a general or family dentist.

From there, you’ll be able to get a positive diagnosis and learn everything you need to know as a parent of a child with bruxism. Your child’s pediatric dentist will be able to figure out the underlying cause, repair any enamel damage, and begin a treatment program to halt bruxism and help your child achieve a healthy, pain-free smile.

We Make Kids Smile is ready to answer any questions you may have about your child’s bruxism.

Do you have questions about pediatric bruxism? Maybe you’re ready to schedule a consultation or follow-up appointment for your child? Whatever you need, we’re eager to help however we can.

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