Being a parent is filled with priceless moments as your little angel learns and grows, and every day brings another unforgettable experience. At the top of many parents’ lists is padding quietly to their child’s room and peeking in to see a peaceful face and hear content breathing, maybe with a gentle sigh mixed in.
But sometimes there is more than angelic sounds of sleep. Instead, most parents at some point hear grinding sounds like the struggling gears of an old Ford pickup. That concerning sound is the grinding and clenching of teeth, otherwise known by its medical term as bruxism. The condition typically occurs during the deepest phases of sleep or if children are dealing with stress in their lives. And bruxism is not an uncommon issue. According to experts, nearly 3 of every 10 American children endure bruxism but most of them outgrow it.
What causes bruxism?
Bruxism remains a mysterious condition and medical experts are largely unsure why it happens; however, some reasons include the misalignment of top and bottom teeth, pain response from teething or earaches, or stress due to nervous tension or anger. Stress of course runs the gamut of life events—perhaps a big test is coming up at school; a new sibling enters the world or a new teacher or new home; arguing with parents might happen on a regular basis.
Hyperactive kids also sometimes develop bruxism, as well as those with medical conditions such as cerebral palsy or others that require doses of specific types of medicines.
What parents should know about bruxism
In many cases, teeth grinding or clenching in kids goes unnoticed with no undesirable results. In other cases, bruxism can cause painful and persistent headaches or earaches. Another common consequence is damage to teeth. Grinding can steadily wear down the enamel on teeth, increase sensitivity to hot and cold, chip teeth, and even cause serious face and jaw issues including TMJ.
What, then, is a parent to do? Since most kids with a tooth grinding habit are unaware of it, the news is often broken by siblings or parents who hear the harsh sound at night. Some common signs to watch for include grinding noise when asleep, complaining of a sore jaw in the morning, and pain when chewing food.
If you are a parent of a child grinding his teeth, schedule an appointment with your dentist to look for increased wear on teeth, chipped enamel, and abnormal sensitivity to air and liquid. If the dentist does find damage, he or she will typically ask questions to the child to learn more of his daily circumstances:
- Are you quarreling or angry with a friend or family member?
- Are you worried about something at school, home, or with friends?
- How do you feel before bed and what is your routine before bed?
With that information in hand, a dentist can determine if the cause is physical or psychological (misaligned teeth or stress. From there, you and your dentist can develop a targeted treatment plan.
How to treat bruxism and help your children manage it
While most kids outgrow the teeth grinding phase, parents can help mitigate its severity with regular observation and dental checkups. For example, if a child often wakes with a sore face and jaw or damage to teeth; your dentist might suggest a mouthguard to wear at night. Made from a special polymer, these guards are very similar to those worn by football players and other athletes and are very effective in bringing positive results.
Sometimes, relief from bruxism can come from the kids themselves. In many instances, controlling the condition starts with relaxation before bed. Reading, listening to peaceful music or taking a warm shower are excellent remedies. From a parental side, if you suspect stress is causing the grinding; sit down with your child and attempt to learn what might troubling him. It could be something you can immediately help with, such as reassurance ahead of your child’s first extended trip away from home.
More serious scenarios may be beyond the scope of traditional relievers and a doctor’s assistance is the next best step. While some forms of bruxism are a natural part of growth, stress-induced versions usually respond well to directly helping kids deal with problems.