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Does Your Child Grind His or Her Teeth at Night?

Bruxism, or the grinding of teeth, is remarkably common in children and adults.  For some children, this tooth grinding is limited to daytime hours, but nighttime grinding (during sleep) is most prevalent.  Bruxism can lead to a wide range of dental problems, depending on the frequency of the behavior, the intensity of the grinding, and the underlying causes of the grinding.

A wide range of psychological, physiological, and physical factors may lead children to brux.  In particular, jaw misalignment (bad bite), stress, and traumatic brain injury are all thought to contribute to bruxism, although grinding can also occur as a side effect of certain medications.

What are some symptoms of bruxism?

In general, parents can usually hear intense grinding – especially when it occurs at nighttime.  Subtle daytime jaw clenching and grinding, however, can be difficult to pinpoint.  Oftentimes, general symptoms provide clues as to whether or not the child is bruxing, including:

  • Frequent complaints of headache.
  • Injured teeth and gums.
  • Loud grinding or clicking sounds.
  • Rhythmic tightening or clenching of the jaw muscles.
  • Unusual complaints about painful jaw muscles – especially in the morning.
  • Unusual tooth sensitivity to hot and cold foods.

How can bruxism damage my child’s teeth?

Bruxism is characterized by the grinding of the upper jaw against the lower jaw.  Especially in cases where there is vigorous grinding, the child may experience moderate to severe jaw discomfort, headaches, and ear pain.  Even if the child is completely unaware of nighttime bruxing (and parents are unable to hear it), the condition of the teeth provides the pediatric dentist with important clues.

First, chronic grinders usually show an excessive wear pattern on the teeth.  If jaw misalignment is the cause, tooth enamel may be worn down in specific areas.  In addition, children who brux are more susceptible to chipped teeth, facial pain, gum injury, and temperature sensitivity.  In extreme cases, frequent, harsh grinding can lead to the early onset of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

What causes bruxism?

Bruxism can be caused by several different factors. Most commonly, “bad bite” or jaw misalignment promotes grinding.  Pediatric dentists also notice that children tend to brux more frequently in response to life stressors.  If the child is going through a particularly stressful exam period or is relocating to a new school for example, nighttime bruxing may either begin or intensify.

Children with certain developmental disorders and brain injuries may be at particular risk for grinding.  In such cases, the pediatric dentist may suggest botulism injections to calm the facial muscles, or provide a protective nighttime mouthpiece.  If the onset of bruxing is sudden, current medications need to be evaluated.  Though bruxing is a rare side effect of specific medications, the medication itself may need to be switched for an alternate brand.

How is bruxism treated?

Bruxing spontaneously ceases by the age of thirteen in the majority of children.  In the meantime however, the pediatric dentist will continually monitor its effect on the child’s teeth and may provide an interventional strategy.

In general, the cause of the grinding dictates the treatment approach.  If the child’s teeth are badly misaligned, the pediatric dentist may take steps to correct this.  Some of the available options include: altering the biting surface of teeth with crowns, and beginning occlusal treatment.

If bruxing seems to be exacerbated by stress, the pediatric dentist may recommend relaxation classes, professional therapy, or special exercises.  The child’s pediatrician may also provide muscle relaxants to alleviate jaw clenching and reduce jaw spasms.

In cases where young teeth are sustaining significant damage, the pediatric dentist may suggest a specialized nighttime dental appliance such as a nighttime mouth guard.  Mouth guards stop tooth surfaces from grinding against each other, and look similar to a mouthpiece a person might wear during sports.  Bite splints, or bite plates, fulfill the same function, and are almost universally successful in preventing grinding damage.

If you have questions or concerns about bruxism or grinding teeth, please contact your pediatric dentist.

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Thank you for giving me the best dental visit experience I have ever had in my entire life!

From the time I walked in to the office and the time I walked out, it was first class! Actually, that is an understatement.

This was my first appointment and I had my teeth cleaned, fluoride application, x-rays, and a test for oral cancer as I did smoke in the past. It was with great relief that not only did I pass the oral cancer test, but my teeth and gums received an A+ from Jennifer, the girl who cleaned my teeth.
The x-rays were very comfortable in my mouth. Lightweight and with digital imagery.

The office even has a flat tv screen by my chair with remote in case I wanted to watch tv while getting my teeth cleaned.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is instead of dreading my next dental visit, I am actually looking forward to it!

Tricia Kelly

I wanted to take a moment and share the treatment that my FAMILY has received from Emerald Coast Dentistry. We have been treated with exceptional professionalism, kindness and competency for every dental need we have required. From a son who started his dental requirements at 5 years old; filled with fear, to a father and mother with challenging schedules. Emerald Coast Dentistry has taken the time to truely get to know the invidual needs of our family and actually exceeds expectations for every visit. How often do you hear those words from a long term customer. Imagine, exceeding expectations for over 5 years under challenging circumstances. As a family, we feel very fortunate to be patients of Dr. Erin Sutton and her exceptional staff!

Sincerely, Scott, Beth, and Eric Brubaker

This was my first visit to Emerald Coast Dentistry and I was treated like one of the family. Doctors Sutton and Hills were extremely nice and patient with me and seemed concerned about my past dental problems. They never seemed to be in a hurry and I felt very confident in their treatment and proposed dental plan. I am very thankful I found them.

Margie Hughes

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