Ever wonder why your child is grinding his or her teeth?

Many people don't realize it, but bruxism (grinding of the teeth) is surprisingly common in children. Grinding can take place during daytime hours, but most of the time, children grind their teeth at night when sleeping. Bruxism can create a number of dental problems, depending on the frequency, intensity and underlying causes of the grinding.

Parents can typically hear intense grinding when it occurs during the nighttime hours. Subtler daytime grinding can be difficult to identify. Some signs of grinding can be:

  • Frequent headaches;
  • Injuries to the teeth and gums;
  • Loud grinding or clicking noises;
  • Rhythmic clenching of the jaw muscles;
  • Pain in the jaw muscles, particularly during the morning hours;
  • Headaches and/or earaches;
  • Unusual sensitivity to hot and/or cold foods.

Even if the child or his/her parents are not aware of their nighttime grinding, the condition of the child's teeth can provide the dentist with important clues. Teeth that appear chipped on the edges, worn down and smooth on the biting surfaces, or excessively short may indicate that heavy grinding is taking place. Bruxism may be triggered by a range of causes, from tooth or jaw misalignment to environmental stress. The good news is, in most children, teeth grinding stops on its own around the time of puberty. Until that time, your dentist will closely monitor its effect on your child's teeth.

In general - if treatment is necessary - the cause of bruxism will determine the method of treatment. If the grinding seems to be aggravated by stress, your dentist may recommend relaxation classes, professional therapy, or special exercises for your child. It may also be advisable to consult the child's pediatric doctor in certain instances.

In cases where young teeth are suffering significant damage, your dentist may suggest a specialized nighttime dental appliance such as a mouth guard. They look similar to a mouthpiece worn during sports and can stop tooth surfaces from grinding against each other. When worn properly, these measures are almost universally successful in preventing damage from bruxism, in children and adults.