Disclosure :: This post was written by Dr. Anita Gouri of Lafayette Pediatric Dentistry.
Why is My Child Grinding Their Teeth at Night?
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is a very common condition in children and adults. It is characterized by the grinding of teeth or clenching of the jaw. Parents usually notice their children grinding at night because it is often prolonged, and the noise created can be quite loud or alarming. Many times a routine dental checkup can alert a parent that their child might be grinding, due to the presence of severe wear detected on the teeth.
What causes grinding?
In many cases, the cause is unknown. However, here are some known triggers for bruxism:
- Stress, Anxiety, and/or Chronic Fatigue. Children may grind their teeth as a coping mechanism when feeling nervous or stressed about upcoming events like exams, competitions, or social situations. Inadequate sleep may result, and further contribute to bruxism.
- Inner ear pressure. Grinding is a way the body can help gain temporary relief from the pressure buildup. This is similar to chewing gum during plane travel.
- Pressure from new teeth growing in. Grinding helps disperse the sensation of discomfort from new teeth coming in. It is common to see children as young as 1 or 2 years old grind when they are teething.
- Medical conditions. Bruxism is especially common in children with special healthcare needs, such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Cerebral Palsy.
- Sleep disordered breathing (early signs of sleep apnea in children). Your child may not be getting enough air when they sleep (due to enlarged tonsils, a tongue tie, anatomy, or many other reasons). So the body tries to “micro-arouse” itself during deep sleep to get more air, and one of the ways it does this is to clench or grind the teeth together. Usually, more severe wear on the teeth is seen in these cases.
So Can We Make a Mouth Guard?
Many parents ask us if we can manufacture a night guard or mouth guard for their young child. We could, but the problem is, we would have to re-make it frequently, as your child grows. Additionally, it is often difficult or unpleasant to children as far as compliance. Fortunately, the majority of teeth-grinding cases in children are temporary and don’t require any treatment. The baby teeth may get a little worn, but rarely fracture because of grinding. Most children tend to stop grinding their teeth altogether between the ages of 8 and 12.
If the grinding persists for an extended period of time past this age, your pediatric dentist may prescribe a mouth guard when your child has reached teenage years, to protect their teeth. If your child has special needs that would preclude them from wearing a mouth guard, interventions such as behavioral modification techniques and sometimes medications can help prevent further damage to the teeth.
So What Can I Do?
The first thing to do would be to investigate possible causes of the grinding:
- Ensure there is nothing potentially obstructing your child’s airway. Examples would be enlarged tonsils or a low-resting tongue. Have your pediatric dentist and pediatrician do thorough examinations.
- It could be stress. Many children do not let their parents know if something or someone is bothering them at school. Talk to your child about potential stressors in their lives and help ensure they know they can communicate any worries to you. It is often helpful for children to talk to a therapist or counselor.
- Social/Technology stressors. For our older kids, significant social media and screen/phone time, especially right before bed every night, can have serious implications on mental health. Social media has been shown in several studies to be directly correlated with an increase in anxiety and depression in teenagers, which contributes to bruxism, among other ailments.
- Poor sleep conditions. Bright lights from screens right before bed disrupt our internal circadian rhythms, tricking our bodies into thinking it is daylight, and sub-optimal or disrupted sleep occurs as a result. Chronic fatigue and bruxism often go hand in hand. Ensure your child spends their pre-bedtime hours screen-free. Have them take a warm bath, read a book, or meditate instead.
For teenagers and adults who have persistent grinding, have their dentist fabricate a custom mouth guard to protect their teeth at night, which will also take the stress of the joints (TMJ) from clenching or grinding.
When there’s no known cause or your child is too young for a mouth guard, just ensure routine dental visits to monitor the teeth grinding symptoms, and help rule out underlying conditions.
If you’re looking for a kids dentist near you in Lafayette, LA, request an appointment at Lafayette Pediatric Dentistry today! Our practice specializes in providing pediatric dental services while ensuring that our young patients’ experience is safe, comfortable, and fun. We look forward to meeting you!
Lafayette Pediatric Dentistry offers an in-house dental savings plan that many parents have found to be a much better solution to dental insurance. Call the office at (337) 443-9944 for more information!
Other Dental Related Topics that May Be of Interest ::
- Why Does My Child Have White Spots on Their Teeth?
- What if My Kid Freaks Out at the Dentist?
- Tips on Weaning Your Little One From Thumb & Finger Sucking
- Sleep Disordered Breathing: More Common Than You Think!
- Why Take X-Rays Routinely at the Dentist?
- Teething Toddler Woes: Tips and Tricks For Relief
- The Most Common Causes of Cavities
- Four Reasons Moms Should Reconsider Fruit Snacks
- The Truth About Tongue and Lip-Ties
About the Author
Dr. Anita Gouri, a pediatric dentist, has been practicing in Lafayette for 10 years and is the owner of Lafayette Pediatric Dentistry. She graduated from LSU School of Dentistry in 2006, receiving honors including Outstanding Achievement in Pediatric Dentistry, Honors in Research, and the Carl A. Baldridge Academic Scholarship. She completed her residency in pediatric dentistry at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC in 2008 and became a board certified diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry in 2009. In 2010, her research on dental pain assessment was published in Pediatric Dentistry. She also has specialized training in treating babies and children who have tongue and lip ties. She is a member of the Academy of Laser Dentistry, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the Louisiana Dental Association, the Southwestern Society of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Association, as well as the C. Edmund Kells and Omicron Kappa Upsilon Dental Honor Societies. Dr. Gouri, her husband, and their two children enjoy travel, Saints football, good food and good friends.