Toddler grinding teeth: Causes, symptoms and treatment

Teeth grinding is rather common amongst toddlers, but it's important to know when it's cause for concern.

toddler grinding teeth

by Lorna White |

If you've noticed your toddler grinding their baby teeth once they're through, particularly at night, you might be wondering why they're doing it and if it's causing any damage.

The good news is that in most cases, they'll grow out of teeth grinding by the time they're around six-years-old. Although it's often nothing to worry about, it's understandable why you might want to try and do something about it, especially if it's affecting them in the night and causing toddler sleep regression.

To put your mind at ease, we've rounded up all the possible reasons why your toddler might be grinding their teeth, plus the ways you can try and discourage them from doing it.

What is teeth grinding?

The official name for teeth grinding that you'll often hear doctors refer to it as is bruxism. It's very common in children, and happens when they press their upper and lower jaw down on each other, grinding the teeth together.

It's very common for kids to grind their teeth during sleep, particularly during the REM phase of your baby's sleep cycle. Most of the time, this is an involuntary contraction of the jaw and it shouldn't wake them up. You may however be able to hear them grinding their teeth, and it's not always a very nice sound.

The severity of teeth grinding can vary from child to child. For many toddlers, symptoms may be minor, and they might only grind their teeth for a few minutes each night. Other children however can suffer from severe teeth grinding, where they can have hundreds of episodes a night, causing damage to the teeth.

As mentioned, most children should grow out of it, but it's estimated that 18 per cent of adults still grind their teeth, so there's no need to worry if your child doesn't seem to be growing out of it.

As long as your toddler has good oral hygiene and brushes twice a day with a toddler toothbrush or electric toothbrush suitable for toddlers, then that's the most important thing. If your child is too young to use a toothbrush or they need some extra help, a baby finger toothbrush or toothbrushes designed for young toddlers are a great starting point.

Causes of teeth grinding

The reasons for teeth grinding aren't always clear according to doctors and dentists, but it can sometimes be linked to the following.

• Jaw alignment issues

• A way to relieve pain such as ear ache or teething pain

Feeling unwell

Stress or anxiety

Sleep disorders

Signs and symptoms of toddler grinding teeth

You'll probably notice your little one doing it or you may hear their teeth grinding before you see their mouth moving.

If your child is grinding their teeth while awake during the day, try to distract their attention away from it so they get out of the habit. If they only grind their teeth at night, you mustn't wake them up as this could make their symptoms worse.

When to see a doctor

toddler at dentist

In most cases, teeth grinding is nothing to worry about. As long as it's not causing any pain for your toddler, you can normally let them grow out of it as they get older without any negative effects. This is because they're often just grinding their baby teeth, not their adult teeth so they won't be causing any permanent damage.

If they do continue to grind their teeth once their adult teeth have come through, it might be worth speaking to your GP or dentist to discuss potential ways of avoiding any longer term damage to the teeth as well as any underlying causes.

It's also possible that your child's quality of sleep could be suffering as a result of teeth grinding. If your child seems irritable and that their sleep is disturbed, you may want to chat to your GP about this.

What are the treatments for teeth grinding?

If your doctor is concerned, they may prescribe your child with a night guard. These are thin strips of plastic, a little like a retainer, which protect the teeth from damage.

If you suspect the cause could be stemming from some anxiety or stress, particularly if they've experienced anything traumatic in recent months, it might be worth changing their bedtime routine. Incorporate some snuggle time before bed to help them feel relaxed and calm before nodding off.

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