Tooth grinding, or the fancy term: bruxism, is the involuntary, excessive grinding, clenching, or rubbing of the teeth during times that do not include eating. Bruxism can occur during the day or night. No one knows why certain children grind versus others, but it has been shown to be more common in children with developmental difficulties.
Many of the parents I speak with, complain about the nighttime grinding. The sound of teeth being ground together is on top of my list of terrible sounds along with nails on a chalkboard and excessively loud gum chewing. It is the worst! Every year around this time, I begin to hear parents’ concerns about their son or daughter grinding their baby teeth. “It sounds like they are biting on rocks.” “Are they wearing their teeth to nubs?” “I feel like their teeth are going to break in half.”
Nighttime bruxism has been linked in young children that snore, have seasonal allergies and asthma, regular upper airway infections, and obstructive sleep apnea. In younger children, bruxism is not typically an indication of stress. Often, it is due to the changes in the child’s bite as teeth are coming in and subsides as the first permanent molars erupt around age six.
So Doc, what’s the treatment? Unfortunately, mouth guards are not typically recommended because they can be a potential choking hazard. If I am not seeing damage to the enamel, I do not recommend any treatment to stop bruxism. If I feel like it may be linked to a more serious condition, such as, obstructive sleep apnea, then I have the parents address it with the pediatrician to see if the patient needs to be evaluated by an Ear, Nose, and Throat physician. If I do see damage to the enamel, I try to dig a little deeper to evaluate the patient for gastric reflux. If the enamel attrition is severe, I may recommend placing crowns on the affected teeth.
Bruxism can be an indication of underlying medical issues, but in most cases, it tends to come and go throughout the year, and there is no need for treatment.