Teeth grinding at night, also known as bruxism, is common in children. As many as 2 to 3 out of every 10 children will grind or clench their teeth in their sleep, though most outgrow it. In childhood, teeth grinding often occurs during deep sleep phases or when children are under stress.
It isn’t known why children grind their teeth at night. Sometimes it’s due to misaligned teeth or a bad bite. This can happen temporarily due to teeth being lost and growing back in, or it can require intervention from an orthodontist. Some children do it in response to pain, such as earache pain or from teething. It can also be a side effect of hyperactivity in children.
How You Can Tell if Your Child Grinds Their Teeth
Often, you can hear clicking or squeaking if you check in on your child at night if they’re grinding their teeth.
Sometimes teeth grinding can cause earaches, jaw pain, or a dull headache in the morning. If your child is old enough to complain about pain verbally or through other means, you might want to talk to their dentist at their next appointment.
If your child snores or breathes through their mouth, they’re at higher risk of grinding their teeth at night.
Children who have enlarged tonsils are more likely to develop bruxism at some point in childhood.
Children who take antidepressants or drugs for treating hyperactivity are also at increased risk.
Certain disorders also increase the likelihood that your child will grind their teeth, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or Down Syndrome.
Bruxism is also genetic, so if you or others in your family have a history of grinding their teeth at night, chances are more likely your child may end up doing so as well.
What Can You Do?
In many cases, childhood bruxism resolves itself without causing issues. Like many other involuntary behaviors in children, they often outgrow teeth grinding. If they’re grinding excessively or clenching and it’s affecting their sleep you will want to talk to their dentist to see if there are treatment options available.
Bruxism can be a sign of nocturnal airway obstruction. Apnea is a common cause of teeth grinding, as are other common causes of airway obstruction, such as asthma or enlarged tonsils. If your child’s dentist suspects any of these issues they may recommend testing or treatment. Not only will this protect your child’s teeth and health, but it will also ensure they’re able to get enough restful sleep at night, which is important for their growth and education.
If your child is grinding their teeth at night in response to stress, helping your child learn to manage stress during the day can help them get more restful sleep at night.
Most of the time, children outgrow bruxism without complications. Treatment isn’t usually recommended unless the habit is causing damage or is accompanied by more serious potential risks. It can be difficult to determine if teeth grinding is a serious issue or if damage to teeth from grinding is current or from bruxism that they’ve outgrown. Your child’s dentist will know best what course of action to take if they suspect nocturnal teeth grinding.
If your child is damaging their teeth or not outgrowing teeth grinding at night, your child’s dentist may recommend a thin, plastic night guard to prevent grinding. They may also refer you to a specialist to make sure that your child doesn’t have any underlying health issues that need to be addressed. If medication is causing bruxism, your child’s dentist may tell you to talk to your child’s care providers to evaluate treatment options or risk and determine whether switching medications is worthwhile.