I recently noticed that my youngest child seems to be grinding his teeth at night. He’s five, if that matters. At first, I thought it was a one-off thing or a fluke. He fell asleep in the car on the way home from a family function that ran late, and I caught his jaw moving when I looked back in the rearview mirror. I always pop in and check on him before I go to sleep, so the next few nights I paused to watch for a few minutes and realized he’s doing it all the time. He doesn’t remember doing it and doesn’t seem to be any worse off for it. The pediatric dentist hasn’t said anything while we’ve been in.
So, I’m wondering why do kids grind their teeth in their sleep and is this something he’s going to grow out of? I know it’s a problem for adults—his dad’s a grinder too—but I’ve never heard of children doing it.
This is a great question! Teeth grinding, formally known as “bruxism,” in children is more common than you might think. Studies show that up to 50% of kids do it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a harmless habit. Let’s dig into the details a bit.
Why Do Kids Grind Their Teeth in Their Sleep?
Kids grind their teeth for many of the same reasons adults do.
- Familial Links: Studies show teeth grinding tends to run in families, though researchers aren’t sure if it’s a genetic link or an environmental factor that causes it. Boys are more likely to grind their teeth than girls as well.
- Stress and Anxiety: Yes! Kids get stressed out too. They worry about tests, things happening with the family, chores, and all sorts of other things.
- Mental Health Issues: Grinding is linked to a multitude of sleep disorders as well as issues like ADHD.
- Dental Issues: Kids with misaligned teeth, those who wear fixed orthodontic appliances, and those who breathe through their mouth tend to grind their teeth more.
- Secondhand Smoke: Even moderate exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of grinding for kiddos.
What Happens When Kids Grind Their Teeth in Their Sleep?
Although you didn’t ask about potential complications, it’s important to recognize that sleep grinding isn’t a harmless habit. Kids with bruxism are at risk for a number of complications.
- Fractured teeth
- Receding gums
- Teeth and jaw problems like temporomandibular joint disorder, sometimes referred to as TMJ or TMD (TMJ is actually shorthand for the jaw joint’s name rather than the disorder)
- Mental health issues like anxiety and depression
- Sleep problems
- Eating disorders
Do Kids Grow Out of Teeth Grinding?
Generally speaking, kids do not grow out of bruxism. Remember, there’s an underlying cause, so although a contributing factor may end, and the child may seemingly stop grinding at night, they’ll probably resume if the trigger returns.
You mentioned that the dentist didn’t say anything at your last visit. It may be that it’s so early for your son that there are no outward symptoms yet. You should proactively bring it up so he or she can look specifically for signs of trouble and keep a close eye on your son as he continues to grow.
Treatment for Sleep Bruxism in Kids
Treatment for kids is much like that of adults and may vary depending on the trigger or underlying cause.
- Dental Care: If misaligned teeth or other oral health concerns are contributing, the dentist will need to address them. Equally, if a child is displaying signs of grinding, such as broken teeth, the dentist will need to repair them.
- Nightguards: Although nightguards don’t prevent grinding, they can protect teeth from damage and often reduce jaw strain.
- Stress Relief: Talk to your kiddo to find out if he’s feeling anxious or stressed about anything. Sometimes just talking it out with you will be enough. If not, consider bringing in a mental health professional to help your kiddo learn ways to manage stress.
- Bedtime Routines: If bedtime routines are inconsistent or chaotic, stress elevates and sleep issues may develop. Try to incorporate a winddown period before bed and set the stage for sleep by ensuring the room is quiet and dark. Limiting screens, especially close to bedtime, and making sure your child is eating well may help too.
As always, if you have concerns or your child develops symptoms that suggest they’re experiencing pain or discomfort, be sure to get him into the dentist for an evaluation right away.
This blog is sponsored by Auburn, AL dentist, Dr. Raymond Bolt.