Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

What is bruxism?

Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is the conscious or unconscious grinding of teeth. It happens, most often, in children, and it may be something you’ve heard from your child at night. About 20% to 30% of children grind their teeth, usually while asleep. Sometimes, children will grind their teeth during the day when they feel anxious. The good news is, most children will eventually stop grinding their teeth, particularly around the time they lose their baby teeth.

What are the symptoms of bruxism?

Physical symptoms are usually related to the teeth and jaw, and are not serious. Teeth might look worn and chipped.

Because grinding can wear down tooth enamel, the problem exposes children to future dental issues if left untreated, including sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks. Children who grind their teeth often say they have a sore jaw, particularly when they wake up.

Teeth grinding can lead to headaches, earaches, and facial pain. Excessive grinding can cause TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disease. Teeth grinding can be tied to emotional symptoms, such as:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • tension
  • depression
  • eating disorders

What causes bruxism?

Your child may be more likely to grind his or her teeth if he or she has been diagnosed with a hyperactivity disorder or has other health issues, such as cerebral palsy. Certain medicines can also cause it. Finally, for some children, teeth grinding occurs because their teeth are not aligned properly.

How is bruxism diagnosed?

Signs of teeth grinding are hard to miss. Family members may hear grinding noises at night, while your doctor will notice the appearance of worn teeth and enamel. Your doctor may test your child’s oral sensitivity to temperature by spraying the teeth with air or water.

Medical professionals often consider teeth grinding as a diagnosis when a patient complains of any facial or oral pain, including soreness while chewing.

Can bruxism be prevented or avoided?

Setting a calming bedtime routine is the first step you can take to avoid teeth grinding. Help your child relax at night by:

  • limiting television and electronics several hours before bed
  • listening to calm music
  • taking a warm shower or bath
  • reading or listening while you read

Bruxism treatment

Treatment depends on the underlying reason for a child’s teeth grinding. Your doctor may begin by having your child wear a mouth guard at night. The mouth guard is specially made to fit your child’s teeth. It’s similar to mouth guards used by athletes participating in contact sports. Wearing a mouth guard prevents the upper and lower teeth from touching, which eliminates the grinding. If the problem is due to misaligned teeth, your doctor may recommend a visit to the dentist for solutions.

When stress is the underlying cause of your child’s teeth grinding, getting to the root of emotional problems can often alleviate that stress. For example, your doctor may talk with your child about things that worry him or her (for example, school, home life, or new experiences) and try to come up with a plan to help him or her be less worried and anxious. If there is no sign of improvement, or the emotional problems seem to be more serious, talk to your doctor to explore further evaluation and treatment options.

Living with bruxism

A restful night’s sleep is good for both your child and the entire family. Addressing teeth grinding early will help promote good oral health for the long term.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Does grinding your teeth run in the family?
  • How can I keep the noise of my child’s teeth grinding from affecting the entire family?
  • Will the damage to my child’s teeth affect his or her appetite?