As parents, nothing matters more to us than the happiness and safety of our children. Quite often I get questions from patients who are concerned about their children grinding their teeth at night. The medical term for the grinding, clenching or gnashing of teeth as we sleep is called bruxism. While it’s often considered an adult condition, it is common in children as well. We typically associate bruxism with stress or with an unbalanced or unstable bite. However, the latest research seems to indicate that bruxism may be an unconscious effort to open a constricted or obstructed airway, and it seems to be closely related to environmental allergies in children. Experts estimate that three children out of ten are nighttime bruxers.
It is easy to understand that the origin of bruxism could be as simple as misaligned teeth. It is also easy to see how stress at work, school or home could contribute to bruxism.
Other causes in children include pain, such as from teething or an earache. Hyperactivity, certain medications or conditions such as cerebral palsy can also cause a child to grind or clench. Nighttime bruxism can wear down tooth enamel, increase tooth sensitivity and even chip or crack teeth. Children are often completely unaware of it, but the noise certainly seems to bother us as parents more than our kids.
What You Can Do To Help Your Child
If you think your child is grinding or clenching, your first step should be to see a dentist or call our office. An exam will include an evaluation of the teeth for wear and tear, chips and cracks and other signs of bruxism. Asking questions also helps us understand if the problem is from a misaligned bite or from other stress factors. Once we understand the underlying factors we can move on an appropriate treatment plan. Many times the solution involves referral to an allergist to determine if the source is environmental allergies such as dust, pets, mites and airborne allergens. In addition, we sometimes will refer children to a pulmonologist or sleep doctor. Surprisingly, sleep apnea is not uncommon in children, and in addition to snoring, bruxism is sometimes the first clue we have that a child has breathing challenges at night. Sleep apnea in children is now thought to contribute to the dramatic increase in attention disorders in our kids.
We’re Here to Help You Help Your Kids
Many times childhood bruxism is outgrown by the time our kids reach adolescence. We do not treat bruxism in kids the way we treat adults, since appliances such as occlusal guards or bite splints are not appropriate for kids whose dentitions are in the process of changing from primary teeth to permanent teeth or whose jaws are actively growing. So perhaps the best thing we can do for a child who grinds their teeth at night is to get them to the appropriate specialist to diagnose and, if necessary, manage allergies or obstructed sleep breathing. This, more than just treating the noise from bruxism, has the potential to truly impact a child’s development not only physically, but also psychologically, emotionally and intellectually. Visit our website at drmarklangberg.wpenginepowered.com or call our office at 248-356-8790 and schedule an appointment to evaluate your child. The bruxing noise you hear from your child’s bedroom at night may just be the “heads up” you want to dramatically impact your child’s health and quality of life!
Until next time,
Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD