Helping Your Child Manage Teeth Grinding (Bruxism) in Kids

Last updated: September 19th, 2023

What Is Bruxism?

Bruxism is the medical term for when people grind their teeth and/or clench their jaws. It can happen consciously or unconsciously during the day or night. Sleep bruxism typically occurs during the lighter stages of sleep. It almost always happens during natural micro-arousals, those times when people wake briefly during the night. Awake bruxism is often categorized as a different disorder from sleep bruxism, though individuals may still experience both. Sleep-related bruxism is more common in children than in any other age group, with 14% to 17% of kids experiencing it. About 12% of teenagers and younger adults experience teeth grinding at night. The rate drops to about 8% for adults.

What Causes Teeth Grinding in Children?

The specific causes of teeth grinding aren't fully understood, but there are a variety of factors associated with it that are worth noting. Teeth grinding in children may occur on its own or as a symptom of other underlying conditions. It may also be the result of a combination of different factors.

Stress or Anxiety It's largely believed that stress and anxiety are associated with teeth grinding. Children may grind their teeth due to life stressors, such as arguments with family members, or significant changes, like moving to a new home.

Tooth Pain Children may also grind their teeth if their mouths are in pain. They may start grinding if they're teething, a process that usually happens between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. Teeth grinding may also be caused by cavities, gum disease, or damage to the teeth or mouth.

Sleep Apnea Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder that affects physical breathing during sleep. It causes a decrease or pause in breathing. People with sleep apnea may startle awake during sleep due to a lack of oxygen. This can be an involuntary response leading to teeth grinding. Children may also develop teeth grinding if they have reflux. Reflux is a digestive issue that can cause pain and irritation in the mouth, tongue, and throat, leading to teeth grinding.

How to Treat Teeth Grinding in Kids

Teeth grinding can be a frustrating and uncomfortable problem for children, but there are some steps parents can take to help. If stress or anxiety is the underlying cause, helping to manage those issues through healthy habits can be a first step. Here are a few strategies that adults can use:

  • Tire your child out during the day so they can sleep better at night.
  • Encourage children to practice calming habits, like reading, coloring, or taking a warm bath.
  • Talk to them about their worries and help them develop positive coping skills.
  • Help them stay away from caffeine and sugary foods, which can prevent restful sleep.
  • Encourage them to sleep in a dark, silent, and comfortable environment.

If children are grinding their teeth due to teething, parents can give them a teething ring to help with the pain. If the teeth grinding is connected to a medical issue, like sleep apnea or reflux, talk to your child's doctor or dentist for more advice. Finally, a child's dentist may recommend a mouthguard to wear while sleeping. This is a soft plastic device that fits over the teeth and prevents them from grinding together.

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