Grinding teeth is called bruxism. Although some people clench or even rub their teeth together while awake, it is most common when someone is in REM sleep (light sleep). In adults, teeth grinding is often associated with their lifestyle and stress level. In kids, when they're grinding teeth, it is not. We don’t quite know why a child grinds their teeth at night while sleeping. There are several popular theories, but the most important one is an association between kids grinding and low blood oxygen levels called apnea. Given the critical importance of good oxygen flow to a child’s young brain while sleeping, when a child grinds his teeth they should be evaluated (simple exam and questionnaire) by a physician or pediatric dentist who has experience in the topic of bruxism. Short of that, bruxism is rarely a major issue beyond excessive wear on a child's teeth.
Will a night guard help when my child grinds his teeth?
If a child grinds his teeth a lot and has severe bruxism, they (rarely) can wear through the hard outer layers of their tooth and expose the very core tissues called pulp. This tissue houses the nerves and blood vessels, and its exposure can lead to an infected tooth and/or pain. In these cases, a custom soft night guard may be considered. Keep in mind, most over the counter night guards are not comfortable enough for a child to tolerate in sleep. And, though much more comfy, a custom night guard will need replacement every 6-12 months given the child’s growing jaw and erupting of new teeth.
What are some common symptoms and signs that my child grinds his teeth?
A parent can normally hear when a child grinds his teeth, especially when it occurs while they are sleeping. There are some symptoms that you can look for, although keep in mind that there aren’t any other underlying issues, such as an ear infection, teething or improper teeth alignment.
Symptoms if your child grinds his teeth:
- Painful jaw muscles
- Crunching, loud sound when sleeping
- Uneven wear on your child’s teeth
- Frequent complaining of headache
- Tooth sensitivity to cold and hot foods
If you have other questions and concerns regarding your child’s teeth grinding and bruxism, please contact your pediatric dentist.
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DDS, MS, CLEC, FAAPD
Dr. J is a board certified pediatric dentist and owner of Scripps Pediatric Dentistry & Brush n Brace, pediatric dental offices located in San Diego, CA. He is not only a Diplomat with the board but now also has Fellow status with the AAPD. He is a proud father of 3 beautiful girls, a San Diego native, loves soccer and is passionate about pediatric oral health. His mission is battling the number 1 disease that he has seen take over our beloved children. #AskDrJ provides answers and solutions to parents questions & concerns regarding their children's oral health. Click here for a full list of articles from #AskDrJ