What does it mean if your child is grinding their teeth?

Posted By: Varun Sharma

Teeth grinding is a condition known as bruxism, which is pretty common among children under age 11. In fact, it is so common that most doctors consider it a normal behavior. But this “normal” condition can seriously affect the teeth of your child, causing severe tooth pain, wear, and trouble sleeping (depending on the severity of the bruxism). Even if bruxism can damage the teeth, because healthcare professionals do not fully understand bruxism, they do not agree on how to treat it. The most common factor that generates bruxism appears to be psychological stress.

The constant grinding

The term bruxism originates from the Greek word “brychein”; that comes from “ebryxa”, which means to gnash the teeth. The first time the term bruxism was used was in 1931 and described the involuntary and excessive teeth grinding. In recent years, bruxism was defined as a nocturnal (at night) or diurnal (during the day) activity and it refers to the movements of the jaw and teeth that are not a normal functional activity (such as speaking, chewing, and swallowing). Bruxism, which is parafunctional (para – outside and function – normal), if done repetitively, can damage the teeth.
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Children are more susceptible to habits that are conducted unconsciously, like bruxism, nail, and cheek biting. Parafunctional activities manifest even when people are awake, having no awareness of doing them. Bruxism manifests itself especially during intense concentration and stressful situations. Sometimes, if you make your child aware that they are grinding their teeth, the condition can stop manifesting. But it is impossible for children to stop their grinding during sleep consciously.

Bruxism statistics

Tooth grinding is a condition that can start manifesting in 1-year-old, healthy infants, immediately after the front teeth start erupting. Young children suffer from bruxism because of the immaturity of their neuromuscular system that is in charge of chewing.

Dental care professional believe that bruxism is part of the arousal response, which is the sudden change from deeper sleep to awakening. 80% of younger adults suffer bruxism episodes in light sleep, and 5-10 percent during deep sleep stages.

Other theories

It was observed that children who snore and breathe through their mouths are more likely to suffer from bruxism. There is a theory that links bruxism with the airway construction. If a person is suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, they are more likely to grind their teeth. Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition, and it can lead to awakening episodes suffocating and depriving the brain of oxygen. Scientists observed that a link between enlarged tonsils and tooth grinding exists, which is also a correlation to the airway construction. By removing the adenoids and tonsils, some children have stopped their grinding habit.

If your child’s bruxism is not that severe, your dentist might recommend medication like antidepressants that can help stop the grinding. Today, the number of children taking this type of drug as bruxism treatment is rapidly growing. Before starting any medication treatment, you should firstly try to lower your child’s stress levels and observe if the bruxism has stopped or not.

The best way of treating your child’s bruxism is to take them to a dentist and determine the cause of their bad habit.