What is teeth grinding?

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Teeth grinding in children: Overview

Your child may not be aware of grinding or clenching their teeth (bruxism). For many children, this happens during sleep. Even though children may be able to sleep through it, they may be grinding away parts of their teeth. If your child continues to wear away the teeth, your child may break or loosen a tooth or filling or wear down the biting edges.

Causes of teeth grinding include stress, an abnormal bite, and crooked or missing teeth. Teeth grinding and clenching can cause pain and popping in the jaw joint. Other symptoms are earaches, headaches, and face pain.

Talk to your dentist. The dentist can determine what treatment is right for your child. In some cases, a mouth guard or mouth splint can help protect the teeth from further damage. If stress is a cause of grinding or clenching, your doctor may give you ideas on how you can help your child relax.

How can you care for your child's teeth grinding?

  • Ask the doctor or dentist to teach your child how to position the tongue, teeth, and jaw to prevent grinding or clenching. Then have your child practice this position, especially before going to sleep.
  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines the doctor prescribes.
  • Make sure that your child gets plenty of sleep.
  • Put either an ice pack or a warm, moist cloth on your child's jaw for 15 minutes several times a day if it makes the jaw feel better. Or you can switch back and forth between moist heat and cold. Have your child gently open and close their mouth while using the ice pack or heat. But do not use heat if your child's jaw is swollen. Use only ice until the swelling is gone.
  • Encourage your child to be active each day. Your child may like to take a walk with you, ride a bike, or play sports.
  • Teach your child how to practice breathing and relaxation exercises to reduce tension.
  • If you hear your child grinding or clenching their teeth during sleep, quietly tell your child to change positions and to relax their jaw.
  • Treat your child to a massage. Some people find regular massages very helpful to relax muscles. You also can give your child a neck, shoulder, and face massage.
  • During the day, help your child keep their jaw, face, shoulders, and neck muscles relaxed.
  • Do not give your child hard or chewy foods (such as popcorn, jerky, tough meats, chewy breads, gum, and raw apples and carrots) that cause the jaws to work very hard. Offer softer foods that are easy to chew, such as eggs, yogurt, and soup.
  • Cut your child's food into small, bite-sized pieces.
  • Teach your child to chew slowly.
  • Do not let your child chew gum for long periods of time.
  • If the dentist prescribes a mouth guard or splint, make sure that your child wears it as directed.

Teeth grinding in children: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.