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What Is Bruxism? How to Prevent Teeth Grinding

Bruxism is a medical term that refers to the act of clenching or grinding the teeth, typically during sleep. It can also occur during the day, usually in response to stress or anxiety. Bruxism is a common condition that affects both children and adults – and can leave long-lasting effects if intervention isn’t achieved.

What triggers bruxism, and what can parents do to prevent their child from grinding their teeth?

What Are the Signs of Teeth Grinding?

Not sure if your child is grinding their teeth? Here are a few tell-tale signs of bruxism:

  • Grinding or clenching sounds
  • Worn-down, chipped or broken teeth
  • Teeth sensitivity
  • Jaw and/or facial soreness
  • Headaches and ear pain
  • Irritability or difficulty sleeping

What Are the Negative Consequences of Teeth Grinding?

If left untreated, teeth grinding can severely impact a child’s dental health, as well as their overall well-being. Here are some of the potential negative consequences of teeth grinding:

  • Dental destruction: Constant grinding and clenching of the teeth can lead to significant wear and damage, including chipped or cracked teeth, enamel erosion, and even tooth loss.
  • Jaw pain and headaches: Bruxism can cause muscle tension and inflammation in the jaw, leading to pain, soreness, and even headaches.
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder: Constant pressure and strain on the jaw joints can lead to TMJ disorder, a condition that causes pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles.
  • Sleep disturbances: Teeth grinding can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to poor sleep quality, insomnia, and daytime fatigue.
  • Gum recession: The constant pressure on the teeth and gums can cause gum recession, which can lead to sensitivity, tooth decay, and even tooth loss.
  • Tinnitus: Teeth grinding can sometimes cause ringing in the ears or other auditory symptoms, known as tinnitus.
  • Increased stress and anxiety: Bruxism is often associated with stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate the condition and lead to a vicious cycle of – you guessed it – more stress and teeth grinding.

Prevent teeth grinding with the help of a pediatric dentist. At Jenkins Dentistry for Kids, we have a compassionate, highly-skilled staff ready to welcome your family and help your child achieve their healthiest smile. Learn what to expect at your child’s first appointment on our blog.

Why Do Children Grind Their Teeth?

Teeth grinding is often a symptom of an underlying condition such as stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, or dental problems. Identifying and treating the underlying cause can help prevent teeth grinding. If you suspect that your child is grinding their teeth, schedule an appointment with a pediatric dentist to evaluate the condition.

According to the Sleep Foundation, children ages 7 to 10 are most likely to engage in sleep bruxism, but the condition is seen in children of all age groups. See below for detailed information on teeth grinding at each stage of childhood.

Why Do Infants Grind Their Teeth?

Bruxism can occur in infants, although it is less common than in adults or older children. Infant bruxism can begin as early as six months of age, when their first teeth erupt, and may continue into the child’s second year of life.

The exact cause of teeth grinding in infants is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to the teething process or developmental changes in the jaw and teeth. It may also be a result of the infant’s natural tendency to explore their environment using their mouth.

Why Do Toddlers Grind Their Teeth?

Separation anxiety and stress are contributing factors for toddler bruxism, but it can also stem from continued teething-related discomfort.

Why Do School-Aged Children Grind Their Teeth?

As children begin to lose their baby teeth and acquire their permanent teeth, they experience teething all over again. Only this time, they’re better equipped with language and self-soothing strategies to manage the pain. However, sometimes these methods include teeth grinding – whether it’s conscious or unconscious.

How to Prevent Teeth Grinding

In many cases, childhood bruxism is not a cause for concern, as it often resolves on its own without any formal treatment. However, it can also be a sign of an underlying condition such as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), ear infections, or other medical conditions. If you are concerned about your child’s teeth grinding, be sure to consult with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist.

In addition to possible damage, bruxism can cause discomfort and disrupt your child’s sleep. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help prevent your child from grinding their teeth:

Offer a Warm Bath and Predictable Bedtime Routine

Since stress and anxiety are often the root cause of bruxism, take extra steps to ensure your child is able to ease into Sleepyville by way of a relaxing bedtime routine.

For babies and toddlers, it could be as simple as lowering the volume of your voice, playing soft music, and dimming the lights as you read stories and snuggle. Chilled teething rings are also helpful.

For older kids, be mindful of your words and tone. Whenever possible, avoid stressful conversations right as they’re getting ready for bed. Instead, consider engaging in relaxation techniques together. Consider recapping your child’s day at school – what is something that made them laugh? What are they thankful for at this moment? What are they looking forward to tomorrow? You can also try deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help reduce stress and tension in the body.

Remember, you are laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy sleep habits! Change won’t happen overnight (but hopefully sleep will!). Instill these practices as new traditions now, and soon they will become second nature. At some point along the way, your child will hopefully learn to self-soothe and feel more relaxed overall, minimizing the likelihood of teeth grinding.

Avoid Screen Time

Kids should avoid screen time before bed because it can interfere with their ability to get a restful night’s sleep. Screens emit blue light, which can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. This can disrupt the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, using electronic devices before bed can be overstimulating and mentally engaging, which can make it harder for kids to wind down.

Apply Ice or Heat

Depending on your child’s age and level of pain, a warm or cold compress can be beneficial to relieve jaw tension.

Use a Mouth Guard

Mouth guards are very helpful in avoiding dental trauma during high impact sports, and they can help prevent bruxism, too. Be sure to talk with your pediatric dentist to see if a mouth guard is a good option for your child; they’ll make sure the fit is appropriate, too.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Dehydration can contribute to muscle tension and fatigue, which can exacerbate bruxism. Therefore, it is important to stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day.

Additionally, be sure to limit your child’s intake of sugary foods and drinks, as they can contribute to anxiety and interfere with sleep quality. Learn more about nutrition and its affects on your child’s teeth through our blogs: Best and Worst Drinks for Kids’ Teeth | Nutritional Tips for Your Child’s Dental Health.

Schedule An Appointment

Do you have more questions about bruxism, or about other ways to keep your family’s dental health in check? Visit our Pediatric Dentistry FAQ blog to learn more.

At Jenkins Dentistry for Kids, we’re always happy to welcome new patients and their families. To request an appointment, please get in touch online or give us a call at either of our offices:

Shawnee: 913.745.2500 | Lenexa: 913.270.4220

Make an Appointment

We are always excited to welcome new patients! Please contact us at 913.745.2500 to create an appointment at our pediatric dental office in Shawnee. 

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