As a parent, you want your children’s sleeping hours to be filled with rest and sweet dreams. The childhood years are irreplaceable, and it’s the job of the parent to make them as pleasant as possible. Thus it may be surprising or even unnerving the first time you hear your child grinding their teeth–that “nails on a chalkboard” sound can come as a shock if you’re not used to it. Who knew that your little one could make such a noise! In reality, teeth grinding during childhood is more common than you might think, and while it’s not an issue that you can ignore there are treatments for it.
What is Teeth Grinding? What Causes Teeth Grinding in Children?
Teeth grinding, more scientifically known as “bruxism” occurs during sleep when the jaw clenches and pushes or grinds the teeth together. Due to the hardness of the enamel and the shape of the human mouth, the sound can get quite loud indeed. Teeth grinding can be annoying for anyone attempting to sleep within earshot, but more importantly, it can damage both baby teeth and permanent teeth. Grinding can result in wear and tear on the enamel, which may expose the teeth to further damage and infection. If left untreated, this may in turn result in tooth loss.
Tooth loss is never a good thing–it’s bad for baby teeth and a permanent loss for adult teeth. If you notice that your little one is grinding their teeth, talk to your dentist right away. Again, if left untreated teeth grinding may result in permanent damage.
What causes teeth grinding? That’s a surprisingly complex question, as the exact cause will depend on the patient’s individual situation. An abnormal bite, eg misalignment of the jaw may be to blame. The culprit may also be a crooked or missing tooth. Stress is a factor in teeth grinding at any age, and likewise, some medications can lead to teeth grinding. It’s best to discuss the matter with your dentist and let them find the cause. They’ll know what questions to ask and what to look for.
How Can I Get My Child to Stop Grinding Their Teeth?
The good news is this: just as there are many potential causes for teeth grinding, there are many potential avenues of treatment for teeth grinders of all ages. Your dentist will be best able to recommend the one that is right for you or your child, based on an exam and some questions they’ll ask about the teeth grinding and your sleeping behaviors. Some of the potential treatments may include the following:
- A mouthguard is a common short-term fix for teeth grinding. This rubbery protective device is worn at night to prevent the teeth from grinding together and incurring the resulting wear and tear. Your dentist may make one for you, or they might recommend an over-the-counter sporting mouthguard in the appropriate size. Most of the time this isn’t a long-term solution and is generally employed while looking for a permanent fix.
- If the cause of the teeth grinding is stress or anxiety-related, your dentist will likely recommend treating the underlying cause as a permanent solution. This may involve meeting with a counselor, therapist, or other such professional to get to the heart of the matter and address the stress or anxiety directly. This kind of treatment can improve all aspects of health and behavior, not just tooth grinding, so it may be well worth it.
- Overall stress reduction may be part of a treatment plan. This may including learning relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation–children of all ages may benefit from these!–reducing or eliminating sugar, caffeine, or other stimulants, or a change in bedtime routines. Identifying the source of the stress or muscle tension and addressing it directly is the goal here.
- If the cause is physical, it may be best addressed via a mode of physical therapy designed to loosen tight muscles, realign the jaw, or address other potential causes of childhood teeth grinding. Again, your dentist can help determine if this is the right step.
Teeth grinding in children isn’t something you can ignore, but it’s likely not the end of the world either. As soon as you notice your child displaying symptoms of teeth grinding, consult your dentist for treatment options. By addressing teeth grinding early on, you’ll help set your child up for a lifetime of healthy teeth!