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Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)

by Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH

Parents aren’t generally surprised by most of their babies’ sounds: soft coos, cheerful giggles, even piercing shrieks. One sound parents don’t expect to hear is the gnashing of teeth! Yet a surprising percentage of babies, almost a third of them, do grind their teeth. Teeth grinding is also called bruxism. It most often occurs at night when children are asleep, but it can also occur when children are wide awake during the day. 

Causes of Teeth Grinding: No one knows why people, let alone babies and children, grind their teeth. They might do it in response to pain, such as an earache. Or they might do it because their teeth aren’t aligned properly. In some cases, brusixm might be caused by emotional or physical stress, sleep disorders, allergies, or neurologic abnormalities. In rare cases, it could be the side effect of a medication. Some experts believe that pinworms can contribute to the problem.

In addition to worrying parents or driving them to distraction, bruxism can result in the wearing away of the enamel of the child’s front and back teeth. In severe cases, it can result in chipped teeth, root exposure, tooth sensitivity, and jaw pain.  

Treating Teeth Grinding: Whether or not your child grinds her teeth, it’s always wise to take her to the dentist for regular dental exams. For children younger than 8 years who grind their teeth, treatment is usually not required, although you’ll definitely want to discuss the problem with your child’s dentist and her pediatrician. If your older child’s bruxism appears to be caused by stress, she may benefit from behavioral therapy or biofeedback, and her dentist may recommend wearing a mouth guard at night to protect her teeth.

If your child’s doctor and dentist examine your child and declare her healthy, you’ll probably just have to wait for her to outgrow it. The good news is that teeth grinding usually declines by the time children are 7 or 8 years old, and almost always stops before the age of 12. By then, most kids have a whole new repertoire of ways to drive their parents crazy!

Rallie’s Tip: My middle son started grinding his teeth when he was around a year old. The first time I heard him doing it in the middle of the night, I had no idea what that noise was or where it was coming from. When I followed the sound all the way to my son’s crib, I couldn’t believe that his little teeth could make such a racket. I had never heard anything quite like it. When I asked his pediatrician about it, the doctor reassured me that it was very common for babies to grind away during teething, and that it would likely resolve on its own. He was right! The teeth grinding stopped in a couple of months.

Jennifer’s Tip: My son, Austin, made the most ghastly noises while grinding his teeth. It sounded a bit like a pencil sharpener! I was just about to call the pediatrician about it to see if there was anything that I should do, when he stopped and hasn’t done it since.  

Mommy MD Guides Tips: I don’t recall my babies grinding their teeth at all. It wasn’t a problem, and I wasn’t worried about it.—Ann Kulze, MD

When to Call Your Doctor: If you hear your child grinding her teeth, talk with her dentist, who will examine the teeth for chips and wear and tear. The dentist might be able to come up with the cause of teeth grinding and offer some solutions. Be sure to mention the problem to your child’s pediatrician as well, to make sure that your child doesn’t have a medical condition that’s causing her to grind her teeth.


The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.