Bruxism is the medical term for the grinding of teeth or the clenching of jaws. Bruxism often occurs during deep sleep or while under stress. Two to three out of every 10 kids will grind or clench, experts say, but most outgrow it.
Causes of Bruxism
Though studies have been done, no one knows why bruxism happens. But in some cases, kids may grind because the top and bottom teeth aren't aligned properly. Others do it as a response to pain, such as an earache or teething. Kids might grind their teeth as a way to ease the pain, just as they might rub a sore muscle. Many kids outgrow these fairly common causes for grinding.
Stress — usually nervous tension or anger — is another cause. For instance, a child might worry about a test at school or a change in routine (a new sibling or a new teacher). Even arguing with parents and siblings can cause enough stress to prompt teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
Some kids who are hyperactive also experience bruxism. And sometimes kids with other medical conditions (such as cerebral palsy) or on certain medications can develop bruxism.
Effects of Bruxism
Many cases of bruxism go undetected with no adverse effects, while others cause headaches or earaches. Usually, though, it's more bothersome to other family members because of the grinding sound.
In some circumstances, nighttime grinding and clenching can wear down tooth enamel, chip teeth, increase temperature sensitivity, and cause severe facial pain and jaw problems, such as temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ). Most kids who grind, however, do not have TMJ problems unless their grinding and clenching is chronic.
People with severe bruxism can break dental fillings or damage their teeth. Rubbing the teeth together can cause the outer layers of enamel to wear away, exposing dentin. This can result in tooth sensitivity.
You may be a bruxer if you experience any of the following:
- Rhythmic contractions of the jaw muscles
- A grinding sound at night, which may disturb the sleep of someone who shares a bedroom with you
- A dull morning headache
- Jaw muscles that are tight or painful – This can make it uncomfortable, even painful, to open your mouth wide, especially in the morning
- Long-lasting pain in the face
- Damaged teeth, broken dental fillings and injured gums
- Painful jaw joint
- Swelling (occasionally) on the side of your lower jaw caused by clenching. Chronic clenching exercises the jaw muscles. Like lifting weights, this makes the muscles grow larger. Once you stop clenching, the muscles will shrink and the swelling will go away.
Most kids outgrow bruxism, but a combination of parental observation and dental visits can help keep the problem in check until they do.
In cases where the grinding and clenching make a your face and jaw sore or damage the teeth, we may prescribe a special night guard. Molded to a your teeth, the night guard is similar to the protective mouthpieces worn by football players. Though a mouthpiece may take some getting used to, positive results happen quickly.