You walk past your pre-teen’s room and hear an unusual noise. You step closer to the door and listen more carefully: It’s a grinding or clenching sound, like a machine is working overtime in your child’s mouth. What’s going on, and why might it cause orthodontic problems as your child grows older?
A stressful time
Pre-teen years are known to be stressful, as it’s also the time of many physical changes in a child’s life. But the emotional toll can be even higher, and that’s why teeth-grinding (or bruxism, as it’s known clinically) can be an issue that leads to better oral as well as emotional health, once the issues behind it are known and out in the open. Of course, much younger kids can also experience bruxism – and the younger they are, the more likely the cause is something on more of a subconscious level. Either way, it can be difficult for your child to express what is bothering them—and that’s why early support and intervention are so important.
Finding the source
First of all, you should know that bruxism can be a very normal experience for many kids. In fact, even though two to three out of every 10 kids may have it at some point in their lives, most eventually outgrow it naturally. Many stop doing it as soon as they lose all their baby teeth. Talk to your child openly about their feelings, and try to figure out what is causing them to stress out. Is it school, friends, or problems at home? Are they struggling in some way with the changes their body is experiencing? Be a good listener and reassure your child that these feelings can be very normal—and are always temporary.
Bruxism often happens unconsciously during deep sleep phases or when kids are under periodic or situational stress – so figuring out what is stressing them and finding healthier ways to manage that stress will go a long way toward eliminating nightly grinding. Exercise, yoga, therapy, and sometimes medication can help. The key is always to help them find healthier ways to work out their emotional issues during their conscious hours, so that their brains don’t work overtime while they are trying to sleep.
What can be done about it?
Keeping an eye on the situation, listening, and providing emotional support for your child can go a long way toward eliminating bruxism. Of course, regular dental and orthodontic visits can also help keep the problem in check until the issues resolve themselves or respond to intervention. In cases where the grinding and clenching make a child’s face and jaw sore or damage the teeth, we may prescribe a special night guard. This can help to avoid painful problems like temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), headaches, and tooth displacement later on in your child’s life. Also, since many adults also suffer from bruxism, it is critical to teach relaxation techniques as well as train the mouth to respond positively to appliances such as mouth guards, since bruxism can become a lifelong issue to manage.