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Nighttime Teeth-Grinding in Children (Bruxism)

Bruxism, Nighttime Teeth-Grinding

How concerned should parents be about teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding, also known as Bruxism, is a fairly common pediatric dental condition. It is estimated up to 35% of children will experience Bruxism at some point in childhood. Although unpleasant for parents to hear, children often are not aware they are clenching their jaw and grinding their teeth at night. If teeth-grinding continues and worsens over a period of time, it is a good idea to have them evaluated by a pediatric dentist.

What are the symptoms of Nighttime (nocturnal) pediatric Bruxism?

The symptoms of night-time grinding may vary, but a few of the more obvious may include:

  • Tenderness in the jaw
  • Tightness in the jaw muscles
  • Earache
  • Headache
  • Visibly worn teeth
  • Increased tooth sensitivity

What Causes a Child to Grind his Teeth at Night?

Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry answer to the whys behind pediatric Bruxism. Several suggestions regarding cause have been made:

  • Local (or intra-oral) factors such as misaligned or overcrowded teeth can cause interference between upper and lower teeth and may lead to Bruxism.
  • Systemic (or internal) causes of teeth-grinding suggested include an earache or other physical pain, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, allergies, endocrine disorders, sleep disorders, and even intestinal parasites.
  • Stressful life situations such as a change in environment, divorce, tension at school, or death of a loved one may trigger anxiety, which leads to Bruxism. Children may grind because they feel fear, anger or another negative emotion.

How do I help my child if he suffers from nighttime teeth-grinding?

If a parent is concerned about a child who may be grinding his teeth at night, an important first step is to have him evaluated by a pediatric dentist. A dentist may offer any of the following treatments:

  • In many cases, a child will not need any treatment other than confident reassurance from a dentist specialized in working with children. Unlike adults, children who grind are rarely prescribed mouth guards to wear at night. Except in severe situations where there may be a risk of infection or damage to permanent teeth, treatments such as mouth guards are likely not needed and may not be beneficial. In addition, the continual growth, change, and development of a child’s oral cavity make fitting a child with a mouth guard tedious and difficult.
  • Sometimes a dentist will recommend a treatment plan, which may include the smoothing of teeth due to wear, fillings for teeth, which are exceptionally worn, and continued regular evaluations.
  • Children and parents both may benefit from a psychological evaluation, especially if the child is in the midst of a major life change. It is also very important for a parent to talk to their child about his feelings. Discussing the difficult issues and life stressors, while giving loving reassurance may help the child process negative emotions as well.

So, what’s the GOOD news?

Most children who suffer from nocturnal Bruxism outgrow the condition on their own without the need for special treatment. Usually, grinding lessens between the ages 6-9 and completely stops by the age of 12.

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