Bruxism is the medical term for the grinding of teeth or the clenching of jaws especially during deep sleep or while under stress. This affliction occurs in 5% to 20% of adults. Three out of every 10 kids will grind or clench with the highest incidence in children under five. Hyperactive children experience bruxism more frequently.
This is such an interesting and vast topic that I have split it in two parts. In the first part I will concentrate on explaining what bruxism is and what causes it. The next entry will focus on addressing and treating bruxism.
Causes of Bruxism
Though studies have been done, no one knows exactly what causes bruxism. In some cases, kids may grind their teeth because the top and bottom teeth aren’t aligned properly. Others do it as a response to discomfort from an earache or teething, or as a way to ease soreness, just as one might rub a sore muscle. Most kids, however, outgrow these fairly common causes for grinding by the time most or all permanent teeth have erupted.
Stress – usually expressed as nervous tension, constant worry, anxiety and even anger – is another possible cause for grinding the teeth. For instance, your child may be having trouble coping with a busy school and extra activities schedule, worrying about a test at school, or experiencing a change in routine (a new sibling or a new teacher). Even arguing with parents and siblings can cause enough distress to prompt teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
Effects of Bruxism
Generally bruxism does not hurt or harm a child’s teeth. In fact, many cases go undetected with no adverse effects, though some may result in mild morning headaches or earaches. Most often, however, this condition is more bothersome to the parents, caretakers and others in your home because of the grinding sound.
In some extreme circumstances, nighttime grinding and clenching can wear down tooth enamel, chip teeth and cause 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 and persistent for many years.
Most children who grind their teeth aren’t even aware of it, so it’s often siblings or parents who identify the problem. Some signs associated with tooth grinding are:
• Grinding noises when your child is sleeping
• Complaints of a sore jaw or face in the morning
• Thumb sucking
• Fingernail biting
• Gnawing on pencils and toys
• Chewing the inside of the cheek
If damage to the teeth is detected, Dr. Martines will ask your child a few questions, such as:
• How do you feel before bed?
• Are you worried about anything at home or school?
• Are you angry with someone?
• What do you do before bed?
In my next blog entry I will write about addressing and treating bruxism, so stay tuned!