Is Tooth Grinding Harmful?

Does it seem like your child’s teeth are shrinking? Has your child ever complained that it hurts to chew but they don’t have a cavity? Has your child said they have an earache but there is no sign of infection? Perhaps your child frequently wakes up with a headache.

If so, your child might be clenching or grinding their teeth. This condition, known as bruxism, can happen day or night and can have serious consequences if left untreated.

An estimated 15-33% of children grind their teeth. It’s more than just annoying to everyone within earshot. It can cause serious damage to their teeth including wearing away or flattening, breaking, chips or loosening. Damage to the tooth enamel can also leave the inner layers of the teeth unprotected from the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Children who clench and grind their teeth may also experience tooth pain or sensitivity when eating or drinking due to thinning of tooth enamel, tired or tight jaw muscles, or even a jaw that won’t fully open or close.

There are many reasons why a child might suffer from bruxism including stress, anxiety, frustration, an aggressive or competitive personality, epilepsy, hyperactive behavior, and some sleep disorders.

Some younger children grind their teeth for no reason at all and grow out of it as they get older, but steps should be taken to protect their teeth from damage.

Some will grind their teeth when they are teething, when permanent teeth are emerging or if teeth are not aligned properly. Dehydration can also cause grinding.

In older kids bruxism can also be caused by SSRIs or antidepressant medication, drinking caffeinated beverages, or using tobacco products, drugs or alcohol.

If you suspect your child is grinding their teeth talk to their dentist or pediatrician, if you don’t have access to a dentist.

Your dental care provider can evaluate the extent of the damage, which may require x-rays. Then they can help determine the cause, develop a treatment plan or connect you with a specialist, if needed.

In addition to addressing the root cause of your child’s bruxism, your dental care provider may also recommend the use of a dental night guard, a small, plastic device similar to mouth guards worn by athletes. A night guard will help to protect your child’s teeth from damage while they work to change the behavior.

You may need to help your child unwind before bedtime so they don’t bring stress and tension into their bed with them. A few ways to do that include:

  • Avoid caffeine or chocolate, especially in the afternoon and evening
  • Take a warm bath or shower before bed
  • Turn off screens and read a book (avoiding scary or tense stories)
  • Learn to settle down and relax in bed with belly breathing exercises
  • Play soft, soothing music

Keep up with regular dental appointments so that your dentist or dental hygienist can monitor wear on your child’s teeth and determine if additional treatments are needed.

For more information about teeth grinding and clenching:

National Institute of Health


Mayo Clinic

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