As babies begin teething, they may begin to grind their teeth while awake, asleep or both. Teeth grinding — called bruxism — is a fairly common issue. According to medical experts, 20 to 30 percent of children grind their teeth or clench their jaw, often during sleep or as a reaction to stress.
As a parent, you may be concerned if you notice your baby has made a habit of grinding their teeth. While it’s not an emergency phenomenon and most children grow out of it naturally, you’ll want to handle their bruxism early to prevent tooth damage and decay.
Why Does My Baby Grind Their Teeth?
What does it mean when babies grind their teeth? Bruxism can be caused by a number of different factors. Babies grind their teeth because of a number of different factors, such as:
- A relatively unstable or “slippery” bite due to few teeth – as teeth first start to erupt, sometimes there are not enough teeth to make contact with each other.
- Discomfort – misaligned teeth can cause babies to be uncomfortable.
- Stress or other pain such, as an earache or headache – if your baby is still teething, they may be subconsciously easing their pain by grinding their teeth together.
When it comes to babies who are too young to communicate their discomfort, it can be difficult for parents to realize their child is in pain, particularly if the grinding happens while they’re asleep. Instead, you’ll probably be able to hear the telltale sounds of their teeth rubbing together.
Don’t panic — this is normal! Nothing is wrong with your baby, and in many cases, the condition will go away on its own. However, there are a few different methods to ease or prevent tooth grinding, which we’ll explore below.
Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
If your baby has bruxism, the first symptom you will probably notice is intense grinding at nighttime or when your baby is napping. You might also notice your baby making subtle jaw clenching motions or grinding the teeth in the daytime hours when they are awake. This can be hard to be certain of.
Some general symptoms that may indicate your child has bruxism include:
- Loud clicking or grinding sounds, especially at night or when your baby is asleep.
- Rhythmic clenching motions or tightening of the jaw.
- Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods, which may cause your baby to cry at mealtimes.
- Tooth injuries.
- Gum swelling.
Problems Bruxism Can Cause
If your baby is bruxing while asleep, it can be hard for you to know. A pediatric dentist will be able to check the condition of your baby’s teeth for indicators that bruxism may be occurring.
The short-term effects of bruxism in babies include:
- Headaches: Your baby might experience pain in or around the ear area.
- Muscle aches: Clenching the jaw causes pressure to build up in the muscles, leading to soreness and stiffness.
- Tooth sensitivity: Tooth grinding causes enamel to wear down more quickly. This can make your child’s teeth more sensitive to the heat and cold.
- Painful chewing: Your baby might have difficulty chewing food.
The long-term effects of bruxism in babies include:
- Chipped teeth: If your baby continues to clench and grind the teeth after wearing down the enamel, the tooth is at risk of breaking.
- Flattened teeth: Another potential consequence is that the baby eventually flattens a tooth from frequent grinding.
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD): This disorder causes jaw pain and stiffness, making it more difficult to chew or fully open the mouth. A child can develop TMD from prolonged tooth grinding that occurs often.
You’ll be happy to hear that bruxism is not a major cause for concern. While it’s best to catch it and intervene early to prevent potential tooth damage, the condition is not a significant health risk to your baby because children outgrow teeth grinding naturally. Formal treatment is unnecessary in most cases, but you can help ease your baby into a more restful sleep with a few soothing techniques for relieving infant tooth grinding.
Give your baby a teething toy to help ease their gums. You can find teethers in many materials, including rubber, soft wood and soothing ice designs. Or, do a little homemade DIY magic with a cool, damp washcloth for your baby to chew on.
How Chronic Bruxism Is Treated
So, is it OK for your baby to grind their teeth? If your baby is a chronic grinder, seeking treatment with a pediatric dentist could be the best option. A baby developing TMJ from frequent tooth grinding is an extreme scenario, but it is possible and does require treatment. Chipped teeth, gum swelling, injuries, pain, soreness, earache and headache in the temples are other problems to address.
If you suspect chronic bruxism, your dentist will look for a wear pattern on the child’s teeth consistent with the diagnosis. Jaw misalignment sometimes results in an aggressive bruxism habit, which leads to specific wear areas on the enamel. If a medication or medical condition is suspected to contribute to the child’s bruxism, a pediatrician can help by changing current medications or prescribing a medication to treat a condition.
How to Stop a Baby From Grinding Their Teeth
For some babies, bruxism might be unavoidable. The good news is that bruxism is usually harmless and self-limiting, meaning it will go away on its own. Because babies are young and constantly growing, there is often no need to stop them from grinding their teeth with remedies like night guards, as many adults do.
While tooth grinding is definitely hard to listen to, you can rest assured that it is a common condition for growing babies and will lessen as your child grows in more teeth. If you’re concerned, speak to your pediatric dentist about your baby’s bruxism. They can offer personalized advice and check to make sure there’s been no harm done to your baby’s teeth or jaw.
Contact Fox Kids Dentistry for a Pediatric Consultation in Portland
If you have any concerns about your baby’s bruxism or other child dentistry questions, Fox Kids Dentistry is just a phone call away. Give us a call at (503) 223 -5039.
We specialize in pediatric dentistry and orthodontics in the Portland area, and we bring a dedicated blend of expertise and care to each family we serve. Schedule a pediatric consultation today to begin — no referrals needed!