If your child has been complaining of a sore jaw in the morning or you have heard a soft grinding noise when you walked by their room at night, your child may be suffering from bruxism.
Bruxism -- or teeth grinding -- generally develops in children around four or five years of age and usually goes away on its own by age 10. It has been estimated that up to 30 percent of children develop bruxism at some point.
In addition to teeth grinding, other symptoms of bruxism include increased tooth sensitivity, tightness of jaw muscles, earaches, dull morning headaches, facial pain and signs of chewed tissue on the inside of your child's cheek. Unfortunately, the causes of bruxism are not completely understood. Some experts think that teeth grinding is caused by stress, but others believe it is linked to tooth pain or misalignment, such as an overbite.
Since most cases of childhood bruxism resolve on their own before kids lose their baby teeth, there is little risk of permanent damage. Very often, mild headaches and jaw pain will be the only negative effects your child experiences and you may never realize what caused them before bruxism ceases.
What Your Dentist Can Do
In more serious cases, the grinding and clenching could result in enamel damage and chipped teeth, which could cause increased temperature sensitivity, severe facial pain and jaw problems such as temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ or TMD). Although these complications are rare in childhood bruxism, if your child is complaining of ongoing tooth and jaw pain it is a good idea to speak with your dentist or pediatric dentist to try and determine the cause of your child's bruxism and to discuss any necessary dental treatment.
In cases where stress is the likely cause of your child's bruxism, helping them relax right before bed could help. Ask your child if there is anything they are worried or upset about and try to calm and reassure them. Also make sure that they do not eat or engage in physical activity within an hour of bedtime. In general, the fewer stimuli your child encounters before bed the more relaxed they will be -- and the less likely they are to grind or clench their teeth to relieve stress.
Your dentist can also give you a night guard for your child to wear to help prevent tooth damage and jaw stress. Childhood bruxism usually ends when kids lose their baby teeth, but if it continues the risk to permanent teeth could require dental treatment. Make sure to speak with your dentist if you are concerned that your child may be grinding or clenching their teeth at night. With close observation at home and regular dental visits, you will be able to manage your child's bruxism.