Bruxism, or the grinding of teeth, is remarkably common in children and adults. For some children, this tooth grinding is limited to daytime hours, but nighttime during sleep is most prevalent. Bruxism can lead to a wide range of dental problems, depending on the frequency of the behavior, the intensity of the grinding, and the underlying causes of the grinding.
A wide range of psychological, physiological, and physical factors may lead children to brux. In particular, jaw misalignment (bad bite), stress, and traumatic brain injury are all thought to contribute to bruxism, although grinding can also occur as a side effect of certain medications.
Symptoms of bruxism
In general, parents can usually hear intense grinding – especially when it occurs at nighttime. Subtle daytime jaw clenching and grinding, however, can be difficult to pinpoint. Oftentimes, general symptoms provide clues as to whether or not the child is bruxing, including:
A child may experience moderate to severe jaw discomfort, headaches, and ear pain. Even if the child is completely unaware of nighttime grinding the condition of the teeth provides the pediatric dentist with important clues.
Often times, we can notice a chronic grinder. They usually show an excessive wear pattern on the teeth. If jaw misalignment is the cause, tooth enamel may be worn down in specific areas. In addition, children who grind are more susceptible to chipped teeth, facial pain, gum injury, and temperature sensitivity. In extreme cases, frequent, harsh grinding can lead to the early onset of TMJ.
Bruxism can be caused by several different factors. Most commonly, “bad bite” or jaw misalignment promotes grinding. Pediatric dentists also notice that children tend to grind more frequently in response to life stressors. If the child is going through a particularly stressful exam period or is relocating to a new school for example, nighttime bruxing may either begin or intensify.
Bruxing spontaneously ceases by the age of thirteen in the majority of children. In the meantime however, we will continually monitor its effect on your child’s teeth and may provide an interventional strategy.
In general, the cause of the grinding dictates the treatment approach. If the child’s teeth are badly misaligned, we may take steps to correct this. Some of the available options include: altering the biting surface of teeth with crowns, and beginning occlusal treatment.
If bruxing seems to be exacerbated by stress, we may recommend relaxation classes, professional therapy, or special exercises. The child’s pediatrician may also provide muscle relaxants to alleviate jaw clenching and reduce jaw spasms.
In cases where young teeth are sustaining significant damage, we may suggest a specialized nighttime dental appliance such as a nighttime mouth guard. Mouth guards stop tooth surfaces from grinding against each other, and look similar to a mouthpiece a person might wear during sports. Bite splints, or bite plates, fulfill the same function, and are almost universally successful in preventing grinding damage.
If you have questions or concerns about bruxism or grinding teeth, please contact us!