Teeth Grinding In Children: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

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Bruxism or teeth grinding is unconscious or conscious grinding, clenching, or gnashing of teeth. Persistent teeth grinding in children can cause teeth damage, jaw pain, and headaches.

Some children may have awake bruxism that is unconscious teeth grinding while awake. Whereas a few have sleep bruxism, making them grind teeth during sleep. Although mild bruxism may not require treatment, children with vigorous and frequent teeth grinding should be treated.

Read this post to know the causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of teeth grinding in children.

Causes Of Teeth Grinding In Children

The exact causes for teeth grinding in children are not known. It could be due to genetic, psychological, or physical factors. Some children may grind their teeth during the day since they find it enjoyable.

Sleep bruxism could be due to chewing-related activity and movement related to sleep arousals. This is considered a sleep-related movement disorder and is often associated with other sleep problems, such as sleep apnea and snoring.

Awake bruxism could occur due to the following reasons (1).

  • Stress and tension
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Pain is some part of the body
  • Incorrect alignment of the upper and lower teeth

In most children, awake bruxism can be a habit or coping strategy when they are deeply concentrated on something or emotional. This can be like a childhood habit, and most of them grow out of it.

Risk Factors For Bruxism

The following factors may increase the risk for teeth grinding in children (2).

  • Positive family history of bruxism
  • Anxiety and other mental health disorders
  • Mouth breathing
  • Night tremors (rhythmic movements) of the jaw
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Aggressive, hyperactive, or competitive personality type
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Psychiatric medications
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Epilepsy
  • Sleep-related disorders and sleep apnea

Some children may develop teeth grinding without displaying any risk factors. You may seek medical care to identify the exact cause of bruxism in your child.

Symptoms And Signs Of Teeth Grinding

The signs and symptoms of bruxism may vary depending on its type and severity, and could consist of the following (3).

  • Visible teeth grinding or clenching
  • Audible grinding sounds
  • Damaged teeth’s enamel
  • Flattened teeth
  • Chipped or fractured teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Gum recession
  • Tooth sensitivity and pain
  • A locked jaw that may not close or open entirely due to tired or tight jaw muscles
  • Facial or jaw pain and soreness, especially in the morning.
  • Headache in the side of the head (temples)
  • Hypertrophy of masticatory muscles
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Damage to the inner cheek tissue

Early diagnosis and interventions may help to prevent permanent teeth damages and worsening of underlying conditions.

Diagnosis Of Bruxism

Detailed history and clinical examination may help to identify the signs of bruxism in children. Dentists may evaluate the child on several visits to determine whether it is a progressive condition and the type of possible treatment plan.

X-rays and some additional tests could often be ordered to look for damage to the teeth and the jawbones. This may help exclude the diagnosis of other dental issues, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems, and other health issues causing similar symptoms.

Depending on the findings of the diagnostic procedures, referrals to sleep medicine specialists and psychologists could be made to identify any related health problems.

Treatment For Teeth Grinding

Many children may not require treatment since they may outgrow the condition in a short time. They may need some training and awareness to change the habitual teeth grinding. However, severe and progressive teeth grinding requires treatment, which may include the following (4).

1. Dental approaches

Dental approaches are ways to correct or preserve teeth in children with bruxism. Although dental strategies help to reduce the risk of tooth damage, they may not prevent bruxism.

Common dental approaches used in bruxism may include:

  • Mouthguards and splints keep the teeth separated and prevent damages from clenching or grinding. Soft or hard acrylic materials are used to construct splints and guards that fit over your child’s teeth.
  • Dental correction is done by reshaping the chewing surfaces of teeth crowns. It is usually required for children with tooth wear (loss of tooth substance not caused by dental caries).

2. Medications

Medications may help to reduce bruxism in some children. However, more research is needed to evaluate their effectiveness. The following medications under physician’s supervision could be prescribed for children with bruxism.

  • Botox injections (a form of botulinum toxin) may reduce jaw clenching. This may reduce headache and pain in some children.
  • Muscle relaxants may reduce teeth grinding in sleep if they are taken before bedtime.
  • Anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants are often prescribed to reduce anxiety or stress that may cause bruxism.

3. Other treatments

The following treatments may help to deal with some causes or risk factors of bruxism in children.

  • Stress and anxiety management therapies and counseling may reduce bruxism in some children.
  • Behavioral therapy may help to reduce the teeth grinding habits.
  • Biofeedback is a therapy to change the teeth grinding habits by controlling the body. This method uses sensor devices, usually integrated into splints to sense grinding or clenching, and give a paired stimulus such as a sound, vibration, or taste to make the person aware of grinding.
  • Medications and procedures to control or cure underlying conditions, such as mental health disorders, GERD, and sleep disorders, reduce bruxism in some children.

Prevention Of Bruxism In Children

The following tips may be helpful to control or prevent bruxism in some children (5).

  • Reduce stress through meditation, exercise, listening to music, and other activities the child finds relaxing.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks.
  • Do not let the child chew anything other than edible items. For instance, chewing a pen or pencil may increase the risk of developing bruxism.
  • If any medications lead to bruxism, you may inform the pediatrician to change the prescription.

Bruxism or teeth grinding in children does not cause life-threatening complications but may cause enamel damage, chipped teeth, gum recession, sleep disturbance, or jaw pain. Anxiety, epilepsy, or psychological issues such as ADHD may increase the risk of developing bruxism. Using force or punishment may exacerbate the stress and anxiety in children and worsen teeth grinding. Check with a pediatrician or a pediatric dentist for effective therapy to reduce jaw clenching and teeth grinding, which may include dental correction, medications, or behavioral therapy for stress management.

Key Pointers

  • Pain, stress, or anger are common causes of children’s conscious bruxism.
  • Sleep apnea, ADHD, mouth breathing, and epilepsy, among other factors, might increase the risk of teeth grinding.
  • Using mouthguards, muscle relaxants, and stress management therapy can help treat the habit of conscious or unconscious teeth grinding.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Teeth grinding; Raisingchildren; Australian Parenting Website
2. Teeth grinding; BetterHealth Channel; Victoria State Government
3. Teeth grinding (bruxism); National Health Service
4. Bruxism (teeth grinding); St. Clair Hospital
5. Teeth Grinding (Bruxism); Familydoctor; American Academy of Family Physicians
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Dr. Tazeen Raees

(MDS)
Dr. Tazeen Raees holds a Master’s degree in Prosthodontics and Implantology and is working as a Chief Prosthodontics Mentor at APJ Abdul Kalam Education Centre, Indian Dental Association, Mumbai. She has various national and international publications to her credit and is strongly inclined towards research activities. She attended an exclusive observership program in Kuwait Dental Hospital (KOC). Tazeen believes in... more

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more