Teeth Grinding or "Bruxism"
Bruxism, or the grinding of teeth, is common in children and adults. It can lead to a wide range of dental problems, depending on how frequently it occurs, the intensity of the grinding, and the underlying causes of the grinding.
There are many factors may cause teeth grinding. Jaw misalignment (bad bite), stress, and traumatic brain injury are all thought to contribute to bruxism, although grinding can also occur as a side effect of certain medications.
What are some symptoms of bruxism?
In general, parents can usually hear intense teeth grinding – especially when it occurs at nighttime. Subtle daytime jaw clenching and grinding, however, can be difficult to pinpoint. There are some symptoms that can provide clues as to whether or not the child is grinding his/her teeth, including:
Frequent complaints of headache
Injured teeth and gums
Loud grinding or clicking sounds
Rhythmic tightening or clenching of the jaw muscles
Unusual complaints about painful jaw muscles – especially in the morning
Unusual tooth sensitivity to hot and cold foods
Can bruxism damage my child’s teeth?
Bruxism is characterized by the grinding of the upper jaw against the lower jaw. Especially in cases where there is vigorous grinding, the child may experience moderate to severe jaw discomfort, headaches, and ear pain. Even if the child is completely unaware of nighttime teeth grinding (and parents are unable to hear it), the condition of the teeth provides important clues.
First, chronic grinders usually show an excessive wear pattern on the teeth. If jaw misalignment is the cause, tooth enamel may be worn down in specific areas. In addition, children who grind their teeth are more susceptible to chipped teeth, facial pain, gum injury, and temperature sensitivity. In extreme cases, frequent, harsh grinding can lead to the early onset of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
What causes bruxism?
Most commonly, “bad bite” or jaw misalignment promotes grinding. Children tend to grind their teeth more frequently in response to life stressors. If the child is going through a particularly stressful exam period or is relocating to a new school for example, nighttime bruxing may either begin or intensify.
Children with certain developmental disorders and brain injuries may be at particular risk for grinding. In such cases, Dr. Day may recommend a protective nighttime mouthpiece. If the onset of teeth grinding is sudden, current medications need to be evaluated.
How is bruxism treated?
Teeth grinding spontaneously ceases by the age of thirteen in the majority of children. In the meantime however, Dr. Day will monitor its effect on your child’s teeth and may provide an interventional strategy.
The treatment for teeth grinding depends on the cause. If your child’s teeth are badly misaligned, Dr. Day may take steps to correct this. If it is caused by stress, Dr. Day may recommend relaxation classes, professional therapy, or special exercises. The child’s pediatrician may also provide muscle relaxants to alleviate jaw clenching and reduce jaw spasms.
If your child's teeth are sustaining significant damage, Dr. Day may suggest a specialized dental appliance such as a nighttime mouth guard. Mouth guards stop tooth surfaces from grinding against each other, and look similar to a mouthpiece a person might wear during sports. Bite splints or bite plates fulfill the same function and are also successful in preventing grinding damage.
If you have questions or concerns about bruxism or grinding teeth, please contact our office at 517-393-8500.
Day Family Dental
Dr. Nathan Day, DMD • Dentist • Lansing, MI