A parent may peek into a child's bedroom late at night and hear a strange noise, as if two hard surfaces are being rubbed together. Teeth grinding in children, or bruxism, occurs fairly frequently — up to 30 percent of kids will do it, according to KidsHealth. It occurs when a person clenches his or her jaw and rubs the teeth together. Children grind teeth for a number of reasons, from stress to a misaligned bite to medical conditions such as cerebral palsy. In some cases, bruxism resolves on its own with time. But, if the condition persists, it can have a number of effects on a child's mouth and overall health.
The short-term effects of teeth grinding in children are often the signals that let parents know if the child deals with bruxism. If the child shares a room with a sibling, the loud sound of his or her brother or sister grinding away may bother the sibling at night. In the mornings, children may have a headache or complain about pain in or around the ear, due to the pressure of clenching the jaw and grinding at night, according to the Mayo Clinic. Wear and tear on the teeth's enamel from grinding can also lead to painful chewing or make the teeth more sensitive to hot and cold. If a child's medication or another medical condition causes the grinding, a doctor may need to change or add prescriptions.
If bruxism continues, it can have a number of long-term effects for children. Significant damage occurs to the teeth if a child keeps clenching and grinding for a long period. The enamel will not only wear down, but the teeth may chip, flatten or fracture, according to Mount Sinai Hospital. In instances where a child grinds his teeth a lot, for a long period, the The Bruxism Association says there's a chance of developing temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, which causes further pain in the jaw and can make it difficult for a child to chew or open his mouth.
Bruxism causes more than physical discomfort, as well. A study presented at the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) examined 1,956 preschool-aged children. Slightly more than 36 percent of those children were found to grind their teeth at least once a week, and nearly 7 percent ground their teeth more than four times a week. The researchers conducting the study found a link between the frequency of bruxism and difficultly adjusting to preschool or trouble being social with others, perhaps because the bruxism interfered with sleep. Bruxism also has a strong association to behavioral issues, such as Attentian Defeicit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to The Bruxism Association.
How parents can help
If a parent notices a child grinding at night, or if the dentist says something, there're ways to help. A dentist can prescribe a special mouth guard to wear at night to protect the teeth, and children can use a toothpaste like Colgate® 2in1 Watermelon Toothpaste with fluoride to strengthen their enamel, fight cavities and bad breath. If the bruxism is connected to stress, parents can help the child relax, either by reading together before bed, trying relaxation exercises or if the anxiety is severe, having him work with a therapist. If the child is older, parents can try talking about what is bothering him and work together to find a solution.
A child's dentist can be a good ally when it comes to coping with teeth grinding. Along with prescribing a mouth guard, he can monitor the situation and note if the grinding seems to be decreasing. They can offer tips and advice for helping the child cope with it and help ensure everyone get a full, good night's sleep.