Grinding Teeth

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My son who is nearly three, grinds his teeth when he sleeps. It started since he was two. Can I know why is this so? Is it harmful? Dr. Betty Mok from NUH replies.

My son who’s nearly three, grinds his teeth when he sleeps. It started since he was two. Can I know why is this so? Is it harmful? Is there any cure for it?

Take care of your teeth

Take care of your teeth

Most children will outgrow the habit on their own by age 9-13 years without any treatment. Hence in children, the problem is usually managed conservatively through reassurance and regular observation.Grinding of teeth during sleep is quite common in children. The cause is unclear but thought to be multifactorial. It has been associated with various factors like emotional/ physical stress, sleep positioning, irregularities in the teeth or their alignment and even allergies.

In many cases, simple measures like reducing the child’s stress especially just before bedtime helps. For example do something relaxing rather than stimulating with the child just before bedtime and avoid packing the child off to bed in the midst of an activity. Don’t wake the child up whenever you hear him grind his teeth as that might cause him stress. Simply reposition him a little and that is usually enough to stop the grinding. For your 3 year old, this is probably all that is needed.

However, if the grinding habit is severe & persistent, it can give rise to problems like wearing out of the teeth, broken fillings, pain in the jaw joints, headache and sore facial muscles in the mornings. The teeth may become sensitive and loose. If the child is suffering from these symptoms, the dentist will check & adjust any interferences in the child’s occlusion that may be contributing to the habit. He can then fit a bite plate for the child to wear during sleep to prevent excessive wearing of the teeth & to relieve the strain on the jaw joint & muscles.

However, such a plate when worn by a child has to be adjusted or replaced regularly to accommodate the growing jaw and the developing dentition. In such severe cases, steps should also be taken to deal with any underlying psychological problems that might be troubling the child and to eliminate other possible related causes like allergies.

Answered By:

Dr Betty Mok

Senior Consultant

Department of Preventive Dentistry

National University Hospital, Singapore