If you’re worried your child is a grinder- don’t worry. You’re not alone. Most other parents share your concern. Kids who actually do grind their teeth, though, are in the minority. That said, the concern is legitimate. Parents and pediatric dentists are right to be alert for signs children are grinding or clenching their teeth.       


The medical term for it is bruxism. That is, the behavior of grinding teeth or clenching the jaw. It’s difficult to pin down the exact percentage of kids who brux. Mostly it happens at night, during the deep stages of sleep.  The consensus, however, is that about 30% of children brux.  These estimates come in part from direct all-night observational studies.  Parents, of course, don’t often sit and watch a child all night. However, it’s not uncommon for nighttime grinding noises to attract a parent’s attention. The most certain indicator of grinding is, of course, seeing it happen.

Usually, though, it ’s daytime signs and symptoms that alert parents and dentists to children grinding teeth. The nighttime behavior leaves evidence behind. Morning complaints about soreness in the jaw and face are common. Nighttime grinding and clenching give the jaw muscles quite a workout. This can make chewing uncomfortable. Sensitivity to hot and cold foods is another flag. This is a result of damage to tooth enamel.


One reason is misaligned upper and lower teeth, or malocclusion. It’s as if the child is instinctively playing “DIY orthodontist”. As if trying to shift the teeth and force them to mate properly. Bruxism can also follow from the pain of an earache or erupting teeth. Psychological stress and hyperactivity will do it, too. The list of unusual causes includes pinworm, malnutrition, dehydration, allergies, and endocrine disorders.


First, remain calm. Discovering a child has been grinding is no reason to panic. As has been noted, the causes are usually pretty benign. It’s very good to know it’s going on, though. A pediatric dentist will spot the telltale wear on tooth enamel at checkup time. Parents who detect grinding between checkups have a leg up. Though in most cases grinding is one of those phases that just comes and goes, sometimes there’s more to it.

Bruxism, as noted earlier, can damage the enamel on chewing surfaces. This increases the risk of tooth decay. It can actually chip a tooth. In extreme cases, grinding can lead to Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD).

A parent who suspects a child is grinding should promptly consult the family’s pediatric dentist. Early detection and, if indicated, timely intervention are valuable advantages. In most cases, the recommendation is to monitor and wait for it to resolve on its own. In some cases, the pediatric dentist will fit the child with a nighttime mouth guard. There are other management techniques, too. In those rare cases when bruxism signals a serious issue, the pediatric dentist will know what resources to mobilize.


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