Toddler Teeth Grinding, How to Stop It
Nighttime teeth grinding, otherwise known as sleep bruxism (SB), is a common problem in both children and adults. It is characterized by the grinding or clenching of the teeth during sleep. For older children and adults, grinding your teeth at night can cause damage to molars, pain in joints in front of your ears, and headaches. Younger children can also grind their teeth at night; however, if they do not have their permanent teeth in, it will not cause permanent damage.
Toddlers are unlikely to complain about any pain associated with the grinding. It can be very distressing for parents to see or hear their children grinding their teeth, especially young children. Still, it is not usually a significant problem – it all depends on the severity of the grinding, the age of the child, and the reaction of the parents.
For most young children, teeth grinding is a sleep-associated parasomnia. A parasomnia is something occurring during sleep that is common, but not, strictly speaking, normal (such as head banging, thumb sucking, sleep walking, and persistent bed-wetting). It does not impact the quality of young children’s lives, or their sleep, and many affected children eventually outgrow this behavior. Also, most children who grind their teeth do not have any underlying disorder; however, it can be a self-comforting measure. So, children with anxiety, separation anxiety, autistic children, children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and children with pervasive developmental delays (including those with Down’s syndrome) may be more likely to grind their teeth.
Treatment of SB may include a number of approaches. Doctors are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that young children can have emotional / mental difficulties that need to be addressed. If you are worried about your toddler, and your toddler seems to be anxious, or has evidence of other problems, a counselor may be able to help. Something as simple as changing the nighttime routine may work. Sleep routines, the child’s general state of emotional health, and the functioning of your family should be discussed with your child’s doctor. If there is a lot of stress in the family, it may be that your toddler needs help to understand and deal with it. For children with permanent teeth, consider making an appointment with their dentist to get a fitted night guard, which will both protect the teeth and decrease the grinding.
If the teeth grinding is not waking your child, and is not causing you, as a parent, a lot of worry, you should remember that this is a common behavior. Researchers are studying teeth grinding in young children and trying to determine the natural history of this disorder, as well as the significance. It is not a reason to be alarmed. The only treatment suggested at this time is a mouth guard for older children, and an evaluation of the child’s anxiety and bedtime routine.