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Children And Sleep Bruxism: Advice For Parents

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Sleep bruxism is the term doctors use when people clench or grind their teeth at night. This sleep disorder is common in children, and over a third of parents say their kids suffer from nocturnal tooth grinding. If you are concerned that your child may have suffer with sleep bruxism, learn more about the causes and symptoms of the condition, and find out what you can do to help your child stop grinding his or her teeth at night.       

Causes of sleep bruxism

Doctors don't fully understand what causes sleep bruxism. Many dentists believe that the problem occurs because a child's top and bottom teeth don't align correctly, but according to the Bruxism Association, medical evidence doesn't generally support this. Indeed, recent research indicates that the oral facial skeleton has nothing to do with the disorder.

Studies now show that sleep bruxism often occurs in children who have other sleep disorders like snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). Children with the condition also tend to suffer from behavioral problems, although doctors often cannot decide if the bruxism causes these issues or vice versa.

Doctors have found a link between sleep bruxism and problems with obstructed upper airways. Problems such as enlarged tonsils block the airway and cause OSA. In these cases, children often instinctively pull their jaw forward to help enlarge the airway. This can stimulate upper airway receptors, which can then cause nocturnal tooth grinding.

Symptoms and what to look for

You won't always know that your son or daughter has sleep bruxism. In many cases, children grow out of the problem without any adverse side effects. Sometimes, parents will hear the sound of nocturnal tooth grinding, which is often loud enough to disturb other people in the house. Your child may also complain of headaches or earaches the next day.

Diagnosing sleep bruxism

Ongoing sleep bruxism can cause problems with your child's teeth, so you should talk to your dentist for more advice. The grinding and teeth clenching that occurs during bruxism often damages your child's tooth enamel. He or she may also have chipped teeth and excess sensitivity to hot or cold.

The dentist will carry out a visual examination. He or she will also ask the child questions about how he or she feels before bed, at school and at home. Take time to talk to the dentist about any problems you think your child is experiencing, as this will help them recommend a suitable form of treatment.

Treatment options

Treatment for sleep bruxism in children is an area that needs further study. That aside, the Bruxism Association recommends only three types of treatment.

  • Occlusal splints (bite guards, bite plates or night guards). These devices stop the teeth moving and protect your child from premature wear by stopping unwanted muscle activity.
  • Mandibular advancement devices, which hold the lower jaw and tongue forward at night, increases the airway. This stops bruxism.
  • Behavioral approaches like hypnosis and meditation.

Talk to your dentist and doctor about the best treatment option for your child. You may decide to combine a dental intervention with behavioral therapy.

Bruxism and Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

Many children grow out of sleep bruxism, but over the long-term, kids with the disorder can suffer from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (or TMJ). This condition can cause jaw pain, difficulty chewing and locking of the jaw. Children with TMJ may need pain relief medication, dental therapy, counselling or even surgery. As such, parents should deal with any nocturnal bruxism symptoms as early as possible.

Helping young children cope with sleep bruxism

It's important to deal with the causes of sleep bruxism, and many toddlers and children grind their teeth because they are anxious or worried. Parents can deal with the problem by helping toddlers relax. Develop a calming bed routine, with a warm bath, music or bedtime story to help your toddler settle down. Avoid disruption at bedtime, and make sure other members of the family know how important it is to let toddlers settle down before they go to sleep.

Sleep bruxism is a common condition that affects millions of American kids. Nocturnal tooth grinding is often disturbing for parents, so it's important to seek medical advice as soon as you become aware of the problem.