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Teeth grinding in children: Treatment tips

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Helping kids with Nighttime bruxism

The quiet of the house when the children are asleep is lovely. After a day of needs and wants and this and that, many a mom has reveled in such silence. Before turning in for the night, one more check on the sleeping babes. But what is that sound? Is your child grinding her teeth?

Helping kids with Nighttime bruxism

Teeth-grinding - bruxism, to be precise - is actually a fairly common occurrence in kids. Some kids grind their back teeth, some their front; my daughter's front teeth, still her "baby" teeth are slowly getting shorter and shorter. My son did this, too. Bruxism sounds awful, can look a little awful, but in kids it's rarely something to worry about.

Causes of bruxism

According to Dr Noshir Mehta, professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston and chairman of general dentistry and director of the Craniofacial Pain Center, bruxism affects about one in 20 adults and approximately 25 percent of children.

Teeth-grinding is common enough an occurrence in childhood that there are a number of theories as to why it happens. Some think it's related to stress - and it might be. Some think it's related to pressure in the inner ear - and it might be. Some think it's related to misalignment of the jaw or bit. It might be all of those, or none of them. Some even think bruxism may be genetic.

Frequency of bruxism tends to decrease between ages six and nine, with most cases resolving completely by about age 12.

Treatment

While most cases of pediatric bruxism resolve on their own, some cases showing excessive wear of primary teeth may require use of a mouthguard. This is definitely a decision to be made in conjunction with your dentist. Some extreme cases of wear on primary teeth due to grinding may be treated by fillings or other treatments.

If bruxism continues as a child's permanent teeth come in, a mouthguard may become a more important tool in dealing with wear of the dental surface. Make sure you keep up with your child's regular dental visits so the issue can be tracked appropriately.

"The use of a dentist-made guard or an over the counter guard can help relax the muscles of the jaw and may help counteract the effects of bruxism. Over the counter muscle rubs for jaw pain can also help along with the guards," recommends Dr. Mehta.

Clenching the jaw tightly is also part of bruxism, and as such side effects of bruxism may also need to be treated. Sometimes muscle soreness in the jaw is a result of night grinding/clenching, as can be headaches. If these symptoms occur on waking and you think your child grinds her teeth, be sure to let your dentist or pediatrician know.

Thankfully, bruxism is rarely cause for alarm. It may sound bad, but it will resolve. You will get those peaceful post-bedtimes again.

For more on keeping kids teeth healthy:

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