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Dealing with Children's Teeth Clenching or Grinding

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What is nocturnal bruxism?

Bruxism is the act of clenching or grinding teeth outside of normal eating times. When the grinding or clenching is done at night while asleep, it’s called “nocturnal bruxism”. (1)

It is estimated that “[a]bout 30% of children grind or clench their teeth. The rate is highest in children under age 5.” (1)

Grinding of the teeth together can wear away the enamel on teeth and expose the dentin, resulting in tooth sensitivity.

How can I tell if my child is grinding his teeth in his sleep?

Signs that your child may be engaging in nocturnal bruxism can include:

• Grinding sound at night

• Child complains of a headache in the morning

• Child complains about sore jaw muscles

• Child complains about temperature, biting or sweetness sensitivity in his teeth

• The crown of the indicated tooth appears worn away

The grinding sound made during nocturnal bruxism episodes may actually wake your child, disrupting their sleep and may possibly be the catalyst for irritable, attention-related and hyperactive behavior.

“Of all children who brux between the ages of 3 and 10, more than half will stop on their own by age 13.” (1)

How can I stop my child from clenching or grinding his teeth?

The bruxism may be because the upper and lower teeth don’t fit together quite right, or it may be your child’s way of reacting to stress in his life — new baby, new classroom, new teacher or a sub, upcoming test, bullying, along with other real or perceived experiences at school, at home or elsewhere.

If this is the case, you need to find out what’s going on and either help eliminate or alleviate the stressful situations, or help your child find other ways of coping with the situation.

Addressing and reducing stress in young children can take the form of:

• A bath before bed

• Listening to soothing music

• Reading a story

• Talking about what upset them during the day

Whatever the reason for bruxism, it is important that your child be seen by your family dentist to monitor any tooth wear and other bruxism related-consequences. Your dentist will also be able to rule out other sleep issues such as obstructive sleep apnea.

Routine dental visits will help ensure that your child’s teeth remain healthy or are repaired in a timely manner to prevent future related dental issues. Your dentist might also suggest the use of a nightguard to help reduce the effects of grinding on the teeth, joints and muscles.


1) Bruxism (Teeth Grinding). Colgate.com. Web. Sept 9, 2013.

2) Bruxism in Children: A Warning Sign for Psychological Problems. Antonio, Andréa Gonçalves, etc. al. Journal of the Canadian Dental Association. J Can Dent Assoc 2006; 72(2):155–60. Web. Sept 9, 2013.

3) Children and Bruxism. The Bruxism Association. Web. Sept 9, 2013.

4) Bruxism (Teeth Grinding or Clenching). KidsHealth.org. Web. Sept 9, 2013.

Reviewed September 9, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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