Beth E. Kailes, DMD • Nicole M. Staman, DMD • Allison J. Johnston, DMD

Beth E. Kailes, DMD
Nicole M. Staman, DMD
Allison J. Johnston, DMD

What Parents Need to Know About Teeth Grinding or Clenching in Kids

Kids may be hyper-aware of how other people behave, but they still lack much self-awareness over their own habits. When it comes to teeth grinding, even adults struggle to notice when they start clenching their own jaw. The truth is, children are more likely to grind their teeth than adults so it’s especially important for parents to make themselves aware of the signs, causes, and treatment.

What is Bruxism?

Bruxism is the medical term for jaw clenching and grinding teeth.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), 36% of preschoolers grind their teeth at least once a week. Overall, up to 17% of all children regularly grind their teeth and one-third will carry the habit into adulthood if habits don’t change early.
Bruxism symptoms
Most people associate teeth clenching and grinding with stress, anxiety, or nervous habits. Surprisingly, this also might apply to children. While teeth grinding doesn’t seem to cause poor behavior in school, the AASM says it does share a relationship, especially in combination with withdrawn behavior.

What are the symptoms of teeth clenching and grinding?

Bruxism isn’t easy to spot. Even then, the symptoms can be extremely subtle so it takes a well-trained eye to notice.

It doesn’t help that kids, like adults, may not even realize they’re grinding their teeth or clenching their jaw!

Teeth clenching symptomsWe suggest looking for:

  • Sore or stiff jaw – especially in the morning
  • Pain or difficulty chewing from a stiff jaw
  • Chattering or grinding sounds while sleeping
  • Frequent headaches and earaches from tension
  • Trouble sleeping or fear of going to bed (associating sleep with pain)
  • Subtle mouth movements (from clenching) while the child watches TV, reads, studies, or focuses on a task
  • Mouth movements (from clenching) during tense situations for the child

What causes teeth grinding?

We aren’t sure exactly what causes bruxism and each case is unique. Some children may clench due to misaligned teeth. Others may pick up the habit while teething to ease pain and release endorphins. Kids may also develop the habit as a response to anxiety or nervousness, like nail-biting or picking.
Finally, some kids may unconsciously grind their teeth while they sleep.

What’s the treatment for bruxism?

While not every case is an emergency, there can be long-term effects in teen patients like increased risk for TMJ, jaw problems, migraines, tooth sensitivity, and worn enamel.
Night guard for bruxism
Each case of teeth grinding is different and requires a personalized treatment which may include:

  • Nighttime mouth guards (for unconscious sleep grinders)
  • Proactive and defensive sealants to protect tooth enamel
  • Braces to correct alignment issues
  • Therapy or counseling to address underlying stress

Like adults, subconscious teeth clenching in kids while awake suggests that the child is unknowingly picking up behaviors to manage daily stress so talk therapy can help tremendously. Either way, a visit to the dentist is definitely in order to evaluate the child’s teeth and explore treatment options!

Take a Proactive Approach to Pediatric Oral Health in Fleming Island, FL

At Pediatric Dentistry in Fleming Island, FL, we make visiting the dentist easy for both parents and kids with a fun and welcoming atmosphere and compassionate staff. Take charge of childhood oral health today!

Schedule an appointment to talk about teeth clenching treatment and prevention at Pediatric Dentistry today by calling 904-215-7800.