Bruxism is the medical term for the grinding of teeth, especially during sleep. It is a very common problem that affects around 50% of children, especially preschoolers.
So what exactly is bruxism?
The grinding of teeth – also known as gritting – results from a contraction of muscles responsible for moving the lower jaw, known as the masticatory muscles. During episodes of grinding or bruxism, they usually contract several times during the night, continuing for about 10 seconds per contraction.
Bruxism can appear suddenly and then just as suddenly disappear. Your child may notice nothing more than a bit of a ridge that develops on the inside of the mouth at the level of the teeth which will go away if it doesn’t continue. However, if bouts continue for a long time, your child may wake up with a headache or toothache. In that case, a dentist’s advice is essential. Chronic bruxism is a threat to a child’s tooth and the surrounding soft tissues. If it continues, a dentist’s advice is essential to confirm and treat the issue.
Causes of Bruxism
There have been various studies on sleep and bruxism in particular, but physicians and scientists cannot come up with a definitive conclusion on its cause(s). However, they all agree that bruxism is not a disease and that it can disappear with time without any treatment.
Some of the evidence suggests and confirms a hereditary factor. Other possible triggers include sleep disturbances, stresses and peculiarities of dentition (the development and arrangement of teeth in the mouth) or facial bones.
If your child suffers from bruxism for a long time, or night gritting causes additional problems like headaches, toothaches, pain in facial muscles or other issues you will need to consult a specialist to investigate the problems and its possible solutions.
Treatment of Bruxism
Here are some tips that you can try without the help of a dentist.
- Try to ask your child to keep his/her teeth not closed, but moved apart a little bit. This way, the jaws are relaxed. A dental specialist can also suggest exercises that will help to relax the muscles of the temporomandibular (TMJ) joint.
- Encourage physical exercise. Regular training will help your child to alleviate muscle tension and stress (which can become a cause of bruxism in sensitive children).
- Pay attention to the emotional state of your child: conflicts with friends, a difficult task, exam, competition or other stressful events can cause additional tension and lead to night gritting.
- Avoid active games before sleep. Encourage a relaxing pastime instead, such as a calm 10 minute talk or reading to your child.
- Give your child an apple or carrot. Eating it will create additional load on the masticatory muscles and lead to better relaxation of those muscles during sleep.
If bruxism is regular and causes tooth problems, a dentist will advise using a specific gum shield while sleeping to protect your child’s teeth from abrasion. Wet warm compresses will help to relieve muscle pain in jaws after night gritting.
No matter what you may have tried, if the problem persists, please contact a specialist for a proper investigation and treatment. Your child deserves a good night’s sleep – and healthy teeth and gums.
About the Author
Luca Bonatelli is a dentist and his writing is often connected to his specialty for example how to become a dentist. He also writes various useful articles about health and education.