Sometimes parents report that their dentist has told them that their child grinds his or her teeth but they don’t know how to confirm if this is indeed the case. In the case of a child who grinds their teeth, there is usually no question because of the noise that severe grinding creates!
How do I know if my child is a tooth grinder?
When a child is a serious tooth grinder, the parents know it. Severe tooth grinding is loud and unsettling. It can oftentimes be heard down the hall from the child’s room, while the child sleeps. In cases like these, it’s best for the child to have some sort of protective device, a mouthguard, made to wear at night to prevent excessive wear on the baby teeth or on the new permanent teeth.
There are a couple of important considerations when thinking about and making protective appliances for children’s tooth grinding. Let’s discuss those below.
Sometimes, parents are concerned that their child may be grinding their teeth because the dentist noticed unusual wear on teeth at a checkup. It’s important to understand that there are several things besides unusual tooth wear that can wear down a child’s teeth.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Nighttime grinding and/or clenching (patient is unaware that this is occurring, thus is unable to stop)
- Daytime clenching, grinding, or nervous habits that involve rubbing teeth together excessively (can be controlled with effort and training)
- Acid erosion, usually from stomach acid (acid reflux), excessive consumption of acidic fruits, soft drinks, or sports drinks
- Nail-biting or chewing on hard non-food objects
If your child has audible grinding or clenching that’s hard enough to wear down teeth, a nighttime appliance will be recommended. These appliances are different from those we use for adults. They have to be constructed so that they remain wearable as the child loses baby teeth and develops permanent teeth.
The type of night time device we use at McDonald Orthodontics looks similar to an orthodontic retainer but thicker in crucial areas in order to hold the teeth apart. Because it is not big and bulky, kids wear them easily and the multiple colors add a fun and personal element.
If your child has a clenching or grinding problem that concerns you, please call our office. Remember, no dental referral is necessary! Just give us a call to schedule a no-cost consultation with Dr. John.
About Clenching and Grinding
Let’s describe grinding: It’s gnashing teeth back and forth while biting very hard. The jaws actually move, dragging upper and lower teeth across one another.
Clenching can also produce significant wear, but it does not make nearly as much noise: little or none, in fact. Clenching is when a child squeezes his or her teeth together while sleeping, and he or she may move them slightly as if rocking the teeth against each other. Even this small movement can produce significant wear on teeth.
If you think your children are clenching, look in on them while they’re sleeping. Feel the muscles on the side of the jaw, below and in front of the ear. If they feel very firm and tight, your child is probably clenching in his sleep.
Severe clenchers will often clench and release over and over again, and you can actually see this activity in the muscles because it looks almost like the child has a heartbeat in his cheek.
Check what this feels like on yourself by laying your fingers on your cheek and clenching firmly. You will feel the muscle bulge and become firm as you do this. This is what you’re looking for on your child.
There’s another condition that causes severe tooth wear, and it isn’t related to clenching and grinding. This is erosion. It occurs when teeth are constantly in contact with a substance that’s acidic enough to slowly dissolve tooth enamel. Generally, erosion is caused by stomach acid percolating into the mouth while the child is sleeping. This condition is commonly referred to as acid reflux. It’s common for a dentist to find this condition, even when a parent has no idea it’s occurring.
Tooth wear from acid erosion presents a completely different pattern than the abrasion from clenching and grinding teeth. In rare cases, a child can have acid reflux and a clenching issue that creates severe wear and erosion over a short period of time, because the presence of acid during clenching or grinding significantly accelerates the amount of wear.
If you suspect acid erosion, ask your child if they get a “throw up” taste in their mouth and if so, how often. Once a month or more is reason to discuss this with the child’s primary care provider.
Clenching and Grinding Can Make Orthodontic Problems More Difficult to Correct
Clenching and grinding during childhood can affect how permanent teeth develop and can actually limit the full eruption of teeth. Severe pressure can also make an existing crowding problem much worse, because the excessive biting forces collapse lower teeth, increasing existing crowding.
If your child needs braces and is a clencher or grinder, we strongly encourage you to take advantage of our free consultation as soon as possible.
Is there a cure for tooth grinding?
No, there is no cure for nighttime clenching and grinding. It is controlled by the central nervous system, much like breathing. Intensity varies, based on stress and other factors, that generally remain throughout a patient’s lifetime.
Do clenching and grinding make TMJ problems more likely?
The short answer is yes. But very rarely is clenching and grinding the sole cause of TMJ problems. Usually, TMJ issues are a combination of factors, including trauma, stress, a bad bite (malocclusion), along with clenching and grinding.