Teeth Grinding — What You Can Do

Teeth Grinding — What You Can Do

Teeth grinding/ sleep bruxism in kids is fairly common. Dr Dana Eliott Srither clears your doubts.

Teeth grinding in kids, also called sleep bruxism, refers to the grinding or clenching of teeth when your child is asleep.

There’s a waking version, too — an unconscious clenching of the teeth, most often owing to stress — but the origins are different and the effects are seldom anywhere near as bad as during sleep when certain of the body’s protective mechanisms are turned off. Left untreated, it can cause damage to the teeth and surrounding tissue, headaches and jaw pain.

During sleep bruxism, the upper and lower teeth may come into direct contact as much as 40 minutes per hour, and — for example, on the first molar — with a force of about 250 pounds. Compare that with normal circumstances, when a person’s teeth make contact for about 20 minutes a day while chewing, and with only 20 to 40 pounds of pressure.

Sleep bruxism is not a disease, but a common sleep disorder. It is more prevalent in children, who often outgrow it, and its origins may be different in adults.

The medical literature shows that stress, smoking, alcohol, caffeine and other factors may set off or worsen the condition.

Other theories on the cause of bruxism are the body’s response to “malocclusion,” or problems with how the upper and lower teeth fit together; neurochemicals like dopamine and a pattern of activation in the autonomic nervous system.

There are acrylic mouth guards that your dentist may be able to prescribe for you to reduce the wear and tear on your teeth enamel.

The medical literature on bruxism showed that anti-anxiety medications like buspirone and clonazepam had worked on some patients. However, these are not for children.

Here are some ways to minimize the occurrence of teeth grinding in children.

Relaxation before Bedtime

Teeth Grinding — What You Can Do

Make bedtime enjoyable and relaxed by reading to and talking with children. This gives them an opportunity to review some of their fears and anger of the day.


Give your kids ample opportunity and space to play throughout the day. With preschoolers especially, it is important to have toys and games suited to their stage of development. With older children, encourage them to pursue activities like organized sports that release pent-up energy.

Patience, Sympathy and Understanding

Teeth Grinding — What You Can Do

Be patient, sympathetic and understanding about the troubles they are having, whether it is potty training or schoolwork.

If your child seems particularly resistant to treatment, this may be a signal that your child is troubled about a deeper problem. In this case, you may want to seek the advice of a child psychiatrist.

The piece is contributed by Dr Dana Elliott Srither MBBS (S’pore), Grad Dip Family Medicine, is a certified Family Physician who believes in the principles of “Get Well” and “Stay Well”.

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