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Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

What is teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, happens when a child clenches his teeth and grinds them together.

How does it occur?

The cause of teeth grinding is not known. It may be because the child's top and bottom teeth do not fit together comfortably. The child may grind his teeth to make the teeth feel better. Later this may become a habit. Children may grind their teeth because they feel tense, fearful, or angry. Bruxism may be related to moving the muscles used in chewing. This may help to keep the airway moist.

Teeth grinding is most common in children around the ages of 5 and 6, however it can occur at any age. It decreases in the teen years and is not common in adults.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of bruxism may include:

  • teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough for others to hear
  • worn teeth
  • increased teeth sensitivity
  • jaw pain, earache, or tightness in jaw muscles
  • headache.

Almost all children who grind their teeth do it only at night. High levels of stress are more common in children who grind their teeth during the daytime.

Will my child's teeth be harmed?

Usually the wear to teeth from grinding does not hurt the teeth. The baby teeth (also called primary teeth) can show a lot of wear to their surfaces without causing pain or other problems.

If the teeth get very worn down, dental problems, such as teeth infections, can occur. Keep appointments for routine checkups. See your dentist if your child has pain.

What can I do to help my child?

If you or your child's healthcare provider sees wear on the teeth surface, it is important to see a dentist who specializes in children. Dentists can polish the teeth to make them fit together more comfortably or make a special mouth guard that is usually worn at night to keep your child from wearing away the teeth.

It may be a good idea to help a child talk about what has caused tension, fear, or anger. Do this in the course of the bedtime routine. For example, when your child is telling you about his day, ask how those events made him feel. While this may not help with the child's teeth grinding, it lets him know that you care about how he feels. It is probably best not to draw attention to the grinding itself.

Most children will stop teeth grinding on their own without the need for special treatments. Talk to your child's dentist at your child's next regular appointment.

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-12-10
Last reviewed: 2009-10-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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