What’s Behind My Toddler’s Teeth Grinding?

Medically reviewed by Karen Richardson Gill, MD on January 12, 2016Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN on January 12, 2016
Teeth Grinding

You may notice your little one constantly moving their mouth while sleeping. This can be accompanied by sounds of clacking or grinding when the teeth rub together. These are all signs that your little one may be grinding his or her teeth.

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is something that can happen across the lifespan for different reasons. According to the University of Michigan Health System, children may begin to grind their teeth at 6 months or later when their teeth start to come in and again at age 5 when their permanent teeth may start arriving.

Adults may grind their teeth because they are stressed or nervous. When it comes to toddlers, the causes are usually more related to testing out their new chompers. While most toddlers outgrow this habit, there are some instances when you may need to seek additional treatments to protect your child’s teeth.

Why do toddlers grind their teeth?

According to the Nemours Foundation, an estimated 2 to 3 out of every 10 children will grind or clench their teeth. Teeth grinding most commonly happens while your toddler sleeps, but you may notice them doing it during the daytime as well.

Dentists don’t always know the reasons a toddler will grind their teeth. Some of the reasons can include the following.

  • Your toddler’s teeth aren’t aligned properly.
  • Your toddler uses it as a way to relieve pain, such as from an aching ear or discomfort from teething.
  • The result of certain medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy, or medications taken.

In older children, teeth grinding can be a sign of stress or anxiety. An example could be stress related to a change in routine or feeling ill. Sometimes you or your doctor may not be able to pinpoint the exact cause.

What are the effects of bruxism?

For the most part, teeth grinding is not considered to be a harmful habit, and one that most toddlers grow out of. Sometimes the greatest “effect” is a parent worrying about the grinding sound their child is making.

For other children, grinding the teeth can cause jaw pain. While your baby may not be able to tell you that that’s the exact cause of their discomfort, frequently rubbing the jaw can be an indicator.

When should my child see a doctor or dentist?

If you hear your child grinding their teeth most days of the week, you may wish to make an appointment with the dentist.

Your child’s dentist will look at their teeth for signs of wear and tear, such as chipped enamel or teeth that appear broken or cracked. The dentist will also check for teeth misalignment, which could indicate why your child is grinding their teeth in the first place.

While toddler teeth grinding is usually harmless, always make an appointment with their dentist if you’re concerned.

What are the treatments for teeth grinding?

In older children, teeth grinding that causes your child significant pain or tooth misalignment is often treated with a night guard. These are thin, flexible pieces of plastic that slip over the upper gums to protect the teeth from damage. However, toddlers’ teeth are constantly changing, which affects the guard’s ability to fit well. Also, toddlers may not understand the how’s and why’s of wearing a night guard at their young age.

One “treatment” you should not use is waking your child up when you hear teeth grinding. This could potentially worsen symptoms and can affect your child’s ability to get a good night’s rest.

The typical treatment for toddler teeth grinding is no treatment at all. If you suspect stress or anxiety could be a potential cause, you can try to establish more of a routine with your little one. This could include incorporating special snuggle time or reading time before bed to help them feel calm and comforted before drifting off to sleep.

The takeaway

Most children stop grinding their teeth after they lose their baby teeth. While your toddler has several more years with their baby teeth, rest assured knowing that your child will likely grow out of the habit.

Rachel Nall
CMS Id: 96935