My Toddler Grinds TOO!

It’s 10.30pm, your child has been asleep a couple of hours, it’s time to check in on her/him.

As you approach the room, you hear a loud grating sound, you peek in and realize this intense sound is coming from him, it’s worse than
scratching fingers on a chalkboard! 

What is going on? That sound can’t possibly be from her mouth, could she be hurting? How could she possibly stay asleep?

This grinding, gnashing or clenching of teeth is called bruxism! He is probably not in pain and doesn’t even realize he is doing this; the noise is more disturbing to you and people around. Do not be alarmed as this occurs in over 35% of toddlers. 

A few children start as early as 10 months, but most by their 3rd birthday. Most will outgrow this Para-functional habit by the age of 6, but a few will continue into adolescence and indeed adulthood.

Why does this occur? There have been suggested possible causes including but not limited to: 

  1. Stress, anxiety or anger: your child may be experiencing some anxiety, from sudden changes in his schedule, change of              school, loss of a family member or pet, relocation to a new house, conflict amongst family members or with siblings.
  2. Allergies, dehydration and nutritional deficiencies: your pediatrician may assist in determining this and managing it.
  3. Infections: ear infections, tooth infections.
  4. Local dental factors: teething, malocclusion.

What can I do? As a parent, you are worried about this habit and wonder how it can be stopped especially if the child may be in pain. Most children do not experience any pain from grinding, a few will complain of a mild jaw pain or a dull headache, earache, in which case you can give acetaminophen (Tylenol).

If you think this habit is excessive you should take this concern to a dentist. The dentist will examine the child to determine if cause is dental, for example improperly arranged teeth, erupting teeth, dental infections.

The dentist will also assess the degree and intensity of grinding by looking for tooth fractures, excessive wear or chipping of enamel, TMJ/TMD (temporomandibular joint pain/dysfunction).

The dentist may also question your child about lifestyle changes, bedtime routines and feelings, to determine if habit is stress related.

In most cases no treatment is done especially amongst toddlers, depending on determined severity, especially in older children, the dentist may recommend a night (bite) guard, which is an appliance your child wears to keep the upper and lower teeth separate from each other.

If stress, anxiety or anger is suspected as the cause, it is recommended that the source of discomfort is eliminated if possible, talking regularly to the child about their feelings, allaying their fears, intervening in conflict situations to resolve them, and in a few cases engaging the aid of a specialist to determine cause of treatment. 

In most cases though, keeping the child comfortable and relaxed at bedtime has been shown to help, for example keeping the child hydrated, giving the child a warm bath, reading a bed time story, a warm glass of milk before bed, listening to a lullaby.

Can I prevent my child from grinding? Most cases cannot be prevented as it is a reaction to your child’s growth, stress related cases may be avoided by eliminating the stress

Bruxism in most instances will cease without any treatment or major damage to teeth and /or supporting structures. Communicate frequently with your child about their feelings and take them regularly to the dentist for evaluation and management of oral related issues.

Dr. Ada Nwoku is the owner and lead dentist at KidzTown Dental. For any questions regarding this or any dental health related topics for your kids, you can find her at KidzTown Dental in Powder Springs, GA, you can call her at (770) 485-3366, find Kidztown Dental on Facebook/kidztowndental or at

(770) 485-3366

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