Teeth grinding or bruxism in toddlers and young children is common and, yes, it can cause problems if it goes on for a long time when they’re much bigger (as in, adult size).
It’s worth a trip to the dentist to find out if it’s a childhood habit they’ll grow out of, or whether they’ve gritted their teeth down to the dentine, which can lead to decay and other problems.
Here, Dr Darryl Marsh from Today’s Dentistry in Brisbane answers some common questions about it.
Why do kids grind their teeth at night?
We don’t know – that’s the short answer.
Sometimes it can be related to their teeth coming through. It may also be related to breathing difficulties during sleep. This is often associated with the shape of the palate, and the size of the tonsils and adenoids.
Is teeth grinding more common in children than in adults?
The enamel wear from grinding is certainly more noticeable in children. And because the enamel on children’s teeth is thinner, the wear is a lot more pronounced, especially with baby teeth.
If the child is an excessive grinder, by the time they’re four or five, their teeth can be really worn down.
Do most children grow out of teeth grinding?
Yes, although it’s variable.
When all their adult teeth come through, they may not necessarily continue teeth grinding into adult life, so their ‘big teeth’ can be quite normal.
I’m worried about it. What should I do?
At most times, nothing. It’s just a question of taking the child to see the dentist for a good diagnosis and reassuring Mum, so they don’t start stressing and grinding their own teeth!
Then we monitor things once their adult teeth come through. Childhood teeth grinding is usually something that’s self-limiting and doesn’t require too much intervention.
Can teeth grinding be related to breathing problems and sleep disorders?
During the check-up, we would just need to evaluate this to see that it’s not a factor.
Can kids wear a night guard to sleep?
Adults can wear custom-made mouthguards (occlusal splints) at night to protect their teeth from damaging grinding.
However, we prefer not to use nightguards with kids, as it would require constant adjustment while their adult teeth first come through. From the age of about six until 14 or 15, their teeth are moving around, so it’s best not to wear anything that’s rigid in their mouth.
Oral appliances also require close supervision and adjustment – trying to get a little kid to wear something like that for many hours a day can be difficult. They can also be costly.
How you can deal with it