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Teeth Grinding

What is teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding happens when your child clenches her teeth and rubs them together.

Usually the grinding doesn’t hurt the teeth. However, if your child still has some baby teeth, the surface of the teeth can get worn down by the grinding. Teeth that are very worn down may cause problems, such as decay, infections, and cracks, or it may be difficult for your child to chew food properly.

What is the cause?

A number of things may cause teeth grinding. For example:

  • Your child's top and bottom teeth may not fit together well.
  • Your child may grind her teeth to relieve tooth pain. Grinding puts pressure on the area around an inflamed tooth, which may lessen the pain for a short time.
  • Your child may grind her teeth because she feels tense, fearful, or angry.

Teeth grinding is most common in children around the ages of 5 and 6, but it can happen at any age. It may become a habit.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may include:

  • Teeth grinding or clenching, which may be loud enough for others to hear
  • Worn teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Jaw pain, earache, or tightness in jaw muscles
  • Headache

Most children grind their teeth only at night. If your child is feeling very stressed, she may also grind her teeth during the day.

How is it treated?

Most children will stop teeth grinding on their own without special treatment. Keep appointments for routine dental checkups. If your child has pain or you see wear on the teeth, get your child checked by a dentist who specializes in children. Dentists can polish your child’s teeth to make them fit together more comfortably. Your dentist may recommend a bite block (also called a night guard). A bite block is a plastic mouthpiece that stops your child's teeth from grinding together. It’s usually worn only at night.

How can I take care of my child?

Help your child talk about things that may be causing tension, fear, or anger. You can do this as part of the bedtime routine. For example, when your child is telling you about her day, ask about how things that happened that day made her feel. It’s probably best not to draw attention to the grinding itself.

Contact your child’s healthcare provider or dentist if you have any questions or your child’s symptoms seem to be getting worse.

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-17
Last reviewed: 2014-02-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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