Updated: Jan 22, 2021
The medical term for grinding and clenching is bruxism. It is a fairly common paediatric dental problem. It is estimated that around 30% of children will experience bruxism at some point during childhood. Whilst it might be unpleasant for parents to hear, children are usually not aware that they are clenching their jaw and grinding at night. If bruxism continues and worsens over a period of time, it is a good idea to have their teeth examined. The symptoms of night-time grinding vary but a few of the more obvious ones may include:
· Sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks
· Pain on brushing
· Tenderness in the jaw
· Tightness in the jaw muscles
· Visibly worn teeth
It is not fully understood why children grind however, a number of theories have been put forward including: factors such as misaligned or overcrowded teeth causing interference between upper and lower teeth, systemic disorders such as physical pain, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, allergies, endocrine disorders, sleep disorders, and even intestinal parasites. The most common pattern is associated with stressful life situations such as a change in environment, parental separation, tension at school, or death of a loved one. Children may grind because they feel fear, anger or another negative emotion.
If you are concerned about a child who may be grinding, an important first step is to have their teeth checked. In many cases, a child will not need any treatment other than confident reassurance. Unlike adults, children who grind are rarely prescribed mouth guards to wear at night. Except in severe situations where there may be risk of infection or damage to permanent teeth, treatments such as mouth guards are likely not needed and may not be beneficial. In addition, the continual growth, change and development of a child’s oral cavity make fitting a child with a mouth guard tedious and difficult. Sometimes a dentist will recommend a treatment plan, which may include the smoothing of teeth due to wear, fillings for teeth, which are exceptionally worn, and continued regular evaluations.
Winding down before bed is an important way to manage bruxism. It helps to create a short routine that involves quiet activities that occur in the same order every night. For example, have a snack, put pyjamas on, brush teeth, go to the bathroom, say prayers, and read one book. It is important that this routine remains the same every night because the routine cues your child that bedtime is approaching. TVs, phones and video games should be avoided close to bed time. It is good to get into the habit of talking about worries or anxieties so that your child doesn’t go to bed feeling stressed.
The good news is that most children who suffer from nocturnal bruxism outgrow the condition on their own without the need for special treatment. Usually grinding lessens between the ages 6-9 and completely stops by the age of 12.