Bruxism among children: What you should know

By Eve Bandusena | Writer for Parents Avenue

All images via Freepik

What is bruxism?

“Bruxism is the medical term for the grinding of teeth or the clenching of jaws,” says Dr. Sylvia of Phi Dental. “Many kids will experience it. Two to three out of every ten will grind or clench, experts say, but most outgrow it.”

According to her, bruxism often happens during deep sleep phases or when kids are under stress. Parents can listen to harsher sounds of grinding teeth.

What is the cause?

  • Kids may grind because the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly. When children’s teeth are not aligned properly, they will try to fit the upper and lower teeth together by grinding, especially when they are sleeping.
  •  Response to pain. It could be responsive to earache and teething. Kids might grind their teeth as a way to ease the pain, just as they might rub a sore muscle. Many kids outgrow these fairly common causes for grinding.
  • Stress. Usually nervousness, tension or anger. For instance, a child might worry about a test at school or a change in routine (a new sibling or a new teacher). Even arguing with parents and siblings can cause enough stress to prompt teeth grinding or jaw clenching. 
  • Intake of Caffeine. Drinking caffeinated drinks, such as soda, high energy drinks, tea, and coffee increases the risks of bruxing. Parents should avoid giving any caffeinated drink to children before sleep. 
  • Some hyperactive kids also have bruxism. Sometimes kids with other medical conditions (such as cerebral palsy) or who take certain medicines can develop bruxism.
  • Kids with narrow airway, sleep apnea, and mouth breather. This group of children has a very narrow airway and retruded jaw, they will unintentionally thrusting their jaw forward to open up the airway during sleep, to allow more oxygen intake.
  • Parasite in the stomach. When parasites such as pinworms, tapeworms, and roundworms gain entry into the digestive system they release small toxic molecules that affect the body and may trigger a bout of bruxism. Parasite infection is more common than you may think because hands, water, toys, and dirt are all common sources of worms.

What are the symptoms?

Some signs to watch for:

  • Grinding noises when your child is sleeping 
  • Complaints of a sore jaw or face after waking up in the morning 
  • Pain with chewing 

“If you think your child is grinding his or her teeth, visit your dentist, who will examine the teeth for chipped enamel and unusual wear and tear, and spray air and water on the teeth to check for unusual sensitivity,” says Dr. Sylvia.

If the damage is found, the dentist may ask your child a few questions, such as:

  • How do you feel before bed? 
  • Are you worried about anything at home or at school? 
  • Are you angry with someone? 
  • What do you do before bed? 
  • Do you drink cola before sleep?

The exam will help the dentist see whether the cause is anatomical such as misaligned teeth or psychological such as stress, and come up with an effective treatment plan.

What are the treatments?

“Most kids outgrow bruxism, but a combination of parental observation and dental visits can help keep the problem in check until they do,” says Dr. Sylvia.

In cases where the grinding and clenching make a child’s face and jaw sore or damage the teeth, dentists may prescribe a special night guard. Molded to a child’s teeth, the night guard is similar to the protective mouthpieces worn by athletes. Though a mouthpiece can take some getting used to, positive results happen quickly.

“Whether the cause is physical or psychological, kids might be able to control bruxism by relaxing before bedtime — for example, by taking a warm bath or shower, listening to a few minutes of soothing music, or reading a book,” suggest Dr. Sylvia.

For bruxism that’s caused by stress, ask about what’s upsetting your child and find a way to help. Talk with kids regularly about their feelings and help them deal with stress. Taking kids for routine dental visits can help find and treat bruxism.

“Avoid giving children caffeinated drinks and deworm your children 4-6monthly especially if your kid loves outdoor activity,” advises Dr. Sylvia.