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What’s Causing My Toddler’s Teeth Grinding?

August 17, 2021 • Our Blog • General HealthSleep
What’s Causing My Toddler’s Teeth Grinding?
It can be worrisome to hear your child grinding their teeth, but the good news is that they’ll probably grow out of it. Until then, learn more about the condition here: You may have noticed that your toddler is constantly moving their mouth while they sleep. That movement might be accompanied by the sound of grinding or clicking when the teeth rub together. These are all signs that your little one might be grinding their teeth.  Teeth grinding (called bruxism) in children is actually more common than people think — it’s estimated that 2 to 3 out of every 10 children will clench or grind their teeth. The grinding can start as early as 6 months when their teeth typically start to come in and can cause sleep disruption, tooth wear, and jaw pain. While it’s not usually serious and most children will grow out of the habit on their own, parents should still be aware of their child’s teeth grinding habits since they may be caused by a more serious condition that demands a doctor’s attention.

Why Is My Toddler Grinding Their Teeth?

While adults might grind their teeth because of nerves or stress, toddlers are more likely to grind their teeth for reasons related to testing out their new chompers. Although doctors won’t always know why a specific child is grinding their teeth, some of the most common reasons are: 
  • Your toddler’s teeth are misaligned
  • Your toddler is using grinding to relieve pain, like the discomfort from teething or from an aching ear
  • A certain medical condition (such as cerebral palsy) or medication is causing the grinding
It’s important to note that often children are not even aware they are grinding their teeth. You may only discover your child is doing it by either seeing or hearing them grind their teeth yourself.

The Effects of Bruxism

In general, bruxism isn’t considered a harmful habit in toddlers since most of them will grow out of it as their adult teeth start coming in. Often the biggest “effect” of bruxism is the worry it causes for parents when they hear their child grinding their teeth.  It’s worth noting that bruxism can cause jaw pain in some children and it’s important that parents watch out for signs their child might be experiencing this. While your toddler may not be able to tell you that jaw pain is the exact cause of their discomfort, frequently rubbing their jaw could be an indicator.  Additionally, if your child passes their sixth birthday and is still grinding their teeth, you may want to talk to a doctor about what options you have to prevent long-term damage to the teeth and to determine what might be causing this ongoing bruxism.

How to Stop Your Child Grinding Their Teeth

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to stop your child from grinding their teeth. Some parents want to wake up their child when they hear teeth grinding, but that’s a definite no-no. Not only can it potentially make the symptoms worse, it can also affect your toddler’s ability to get a good night’s sleep, which is essential to their successful growth and development.  While older children can be treated with a night guard if their bruxism is causing pain or misalignment, this option doesn’t work well for toddlers. A toddler’s teeth are constantly changing, which means that the guard — which consists of a thin piece of plastic that slips over the upper gums to protect the teeth from damage — won’t fit well. Plus, a young child is unlikely to understand the how’s and why’s of wearing a night guard, which makes trying to force them to wear it an unnecessary challenge.  In reality, the typical “treatment” for bruxism in toddlers is no treatment at all. If you believe that anxiety or stress might be at the core of the problem, you can try establishing more of a routine that makes your toddler feel calm and comforted before bed. That could include special snuggle time or reading time before bed. 

When to See a Doctor

Most children will stop grinding their teeth on their own once they lose all their baby teeth, so even if your toddler has a few more years of grinding left, you can be confident that it will likely stop on its own. However, there are certain circumstances in which it’s a good idea to see a doctor. If your child is experiencing frequent headaches, if they seem to have discomfort or pain in their face after waking up, if they have tooth sensitivity to hot or cold food, or if there are any signs of trauma to the gums or teeth along with their tooth grinding, you should bring the issue to your doctor right away.  If you are worried about your child grinding their teeth — whether they are experiencing these symptoms or not — you can bring them in to see the specialists at Kids’ Health in Beverly, Massachusetts. We can help you get to the bottom of the condition and understand the best path forward. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at our leading pediatric clinic!...