Bruxism is teeth grinding or jaw clenching in children and is a common condition that can cause parents concern about their child’s dental health. Approximately 20-30% of children exhibit some type of bruxism, and while most patients eventually grow out of teeth grinding or clenching of their jaws, the effects of bruxism can be bothersome and painful. Since teeth grinding typically occurs during the deep sleep cycle, a child’s bruxism is often only discovered when parents hear the sounds of teeth clenching when they check on their child while he/she is sleeping.
What Causes Bruxism?
There is no definitive cause for bruxism, however, some commonly suspected contributors include:
- Misaligned teeth
- Anxiety, nervous tension, or stress (such as may be caused by a change in routine, anger, or fear)
- Hyperactivity or ADHD
- Reactions to medications
- Pain, such as earache or teething
- Inner ear pressure
- Some medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy
Whatever the cause, bruxism can often go undetected unless symptoms present. Many children have no ill effects from bruxism (especially mild cases), however, teeth grinding can result in unwanted health issues.
Common complications of bruxism include:
- Facial pain
- Jaw pain or problems, such as TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)
- Erosion of tooth enamel
- Loose or chipped teeth
- Dental attrition (wearing down of teeth)
- Tooth pain or sensitivity
- Inner cheek abrasions
If your child complains of a sore jaw in the mornings or jaw pain while chewing, some nocturnal observation may help identify the source of the problem as bruxism. If you discover or suspect that your child is teeth grinding, a dental examination is recommended to establish if there is any enamel erosion, unusual wear and tear on the teeth, or tooth sensitivity.
Your pediatric dentist will also check for any misalignment problems that could be contributing to the bruxism.
If bruxism is diagnosed, your dentist may ask questions to help identify any stressors that may be causing anxiety-related teeth grinding.
If bruxism is causing dental damage or other jaw or facial problems, the pediatric dental specialists at Kids Dental can prescribe an individualized mouth guard specifically molded to protect your child’s teeth and prevent grinding.
Other helpful solutions for reducing teeth grinding (especially stress-induced bruxism) include relaxation techniques prior to bedtime, such as:
- Taking a warm bath or shower
- Listening to soothing music
- Reading a book
If stress and/or anxiety are factors, talk to your child about the upsetting situation to help alleviate worry.
Is Bruxism a Sleep Disorder?
Teeth grinding that occurs during sleep (sleep bruxism) is considered a sleep-related disorder, as studies show that the act of clenching the teeth results in nocturnal arousal in 60% of incidences. Sleep bruxism episodes typically occur six times an hour in clusters during the entire night, with most presenting during Stage Two and REM sleep. These frequent nocturnal arousals can result in behavioral problems during the day due to sleep fragmentation.
Sleep bruxism is often accompanied by other sleep disorders, such as:
- Mouth breathing
- Adenotonsillar hypertrophy (enlarged adenoids and tonsils)
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
In cases involving sleep-disordered breathing due to enlarged tonsils or adenoids, bruxism usually decreases significantly or stops completely after an adenotonsillectomy is performed.
In most other cases, pediatric bruxism begins decreasing between the ages of six and nine. Generally, children who grind their teeth outgrow the activity between ages nine and twelve.
If you are concerned that your child is grinding his/her teeth or your child is showing signs of dental problems due to bruxism, please contact Kids Dental for an evaluation.