For years, nighttime tooth grinders were thought to be adults who were overwhelmed by life’s stresses and worries. Though stress can certainly be one cause of nighttime tooth grinding, recent research suggests that anything that arouses the brain during sleep can cause excessive jaw movements.
This research explains why some children also suffer from nighttime teeth grinding, or bruxism. Nightly grinding results in sore TM joints and facial pain during the day, and can cause damage to your teeth. If your child is complaining of facial or jaw pain in the mornings, look for the following signs and symptoms of bruxism:
▪ Worn, chipped or sensitive teeth that look like they are getting shorter (the front incisors) or are getting flatter and yellow in color (the back molars)
▪ Morning headaches and/or facial and jaw pain
▪ Morning jaw noises such as clicking or popping
▪ Sensitive teeth when eating or exposed to hot or cold fluids
What Causes Bruxism in Children?
Though bruxism is often a cause of stress, it does not mean that it is what is causing your child’s nightly teeth grinding. However, persistent life stressors associated with school, unstable home environments, and social relationships may cause your child to sleep restlessly. Some of the risk factors that should be considered if you hear your child grinding his or her teeth excessively each night include:
▪ Problematic asthma conditions
▪ Enlarged tonsils and adenoids
▪ Childhood obesity that may compromise the airway at night
▪ Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
▪ Acid Reflux
▪ Use of medication to treat ADHD
Can Childhood Bruxism Be Treated?
Identifying signs of bruxism early is the best way to end your child’s nightly teeth grinding habit. The good news is that once the cause is identified, there are several treatment option available. I look for enlarged tonsils and adenoids during an exam, especially with patients with histories of recurrent sore throats. If enlarged tonsils or adenoids are the cause of your child’s tooth grinding, they will likely be referred to an Ear, Nose, Throat specialist to be removed—ending the nightly bruxism.
If a child comes to my office with signs of worn teeth and loss of enamel on the biting surface of the molars, this usually indicates that a chemical erosion, like acid reflux, is occurring. This is due to stomach acid pooling on the teeth at night and is a direct result of the acid reflux. I send these kids to a Gastrointestinal doctor to be treated for reflux. If your child is taking medicine for ADHD, the solution may simple: administer the medication in the morning, not during the late afternoon or evening.
Bite appliances are used in kids even as young as 6 -12 years in an effort to buy time and protect teeth and jaws until the origin of the bruxism is determined and managed. Bruxism in children should be taken seriously as it can result in early destruction of the baby teeth, wear on the permanent teeth, jaw related problems, or tension headaches. Evaluation by a dentist with a broad understanding of teeth grinding is strongly advised.
Dr. Donald Tanenbaum has been practicing in New York City and Long Island for over 20 years. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat bruxism, TMJ and TMD problems, Sleep Apnea, facial pain, muscle pain disorders, nerve pain disorders, tension headaches, and snoring. Learn more about Dr. Tanenbaum here.
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