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Grinding and Clenching: A Common Habit Among Children

By Jennifer Woodbury Duval
From Reno Moms Blog

Did you know that gnashing and grinding teeth, also called bruxism, is a common habit among children?  In a study of patients younger than 17 years old the prevalence of bruxism was found to be about 38 percent and most common among pediatric dental patients.

While bruxism may occur when a child is asleep or awake, according to Dr. Stoker at The Smile Shop most parents notice this habit when they walk into their sleeping child’s room and hear an alarming sound; a sound that sounds similar to nails on a chalk board.

“Parents often hear their child grinding his teeth when the child’s first few teeth come in or during the teething process,” said Dr. Stoker.

The Cause
There is no single cause of bruxism but common factors associated with it include stress, hyperactivity or anxiety. Bruxism is common among patients with large tonsils or obstructive sleep apnea. It can also be due to simple anatomy like baby teeth being flatter than permanent teeth.

“Flat baby teeth combined with an immature temporomandibular joint makes grinding teeth easier when we’re young,” said Dr. Stoker. “When we see a patient that grinds, we find wear on tooth enamel primarily on the biting surfaces. It can vary from patient to patient and depends on factors such as the type of bite, position of teeth, and the frequency and duration of the habit.”

Typically, wear is minimal but The Smile Shop does see cases that are more severe, where wear extends into dentin, which is a more sensitive part of the tooth.

“Children who grind their teeth tend to complain more often of pain and muscle tenderness when eating.  Over time and more common in teenagers, bruxism and clenching can also contribute to the development of temporomandibular disorders, more commonly referred to as TMJ,” said Dr. Stoker.

The Signs
How will you know if your child is grinding his teeth? In addition to the sound it makes, children or teenagers may complain of jaw soreness or muscle tenderness, pointing to their cheeks. The habit can also be detected during regular dental exams.

The Solution
“The reason a child grinds isn’t always clear,” said Dr. Stoker. “But we can help find a solution to help protect the teeth. For example, if stress is the issue, we suggest ways to minimize it. This could be something as simple as establishing a new, relaxing nighttime routine. In the case of an airway concern – like sleep apnea or snoring – a pediatrician can help. If the grinding is causing significant wear on the enamel, we can make a night guard for the child.”

“As common as bruxism is for our pediatric patients, it is also very common to outgrow the
habit around age 6 or 7, which is when a child begins to get their permanent teeth,” continued Dr. Stoker.

Concerned that your child may be grinding? Want to learn more? Any of the dentists at The Smile Shop can help; call to make an appointment today!