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Kids may be hyper-aware of how other people behave, but they still lack much self-awareness over their own habits. Even adults struggle to notice when they start clenching their own jaw. Children, however, are more likely to grind their teeth than adults so it’s especially important for parents to make themselves aware of the signs, causes, and treatment of teeth grinding.
Bruxism is the medical term for jaw clenching and grinding teeth.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), 36% of preschoolers grind their teeth at least once a week. Overall, up to 17% of all children regularly grind their teeth and one-third will carry the habit into adulthood if habits aren’t broken early.
Most people associate teeth clenching and grinding with stress, anxiety, or nervous habits. Surprisingly, this also might apply to children. While teeth grinding doesn’t seem to cause poor behavior in school, the AASM says it does share a relationship, especially in combination with withdrawn behavior.
Bruxism isn’t easy to spot. Even then, the symptoms can be extremely subtle so it takes a well-trained eye to notice. It doesn’t help that kids, like adults, may not even realize they’re grinding their teeth or clenching their jaw!
Here are some teeth-clenching symptoms we suggest looking for:
Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes bruxism and each case is unique. Some children may clench due to misaligned teeth. Others may pick up the habit while teething to ease pain and release endorphins. Kids may also develop the habit as a response to anxiety or nervousness, like nail-biting or picking. Finally, some kids may unconsciously grind their teeth while they sleep.
While not every case is an emergency, there can be long-term effects in teen patients like increased risk for TMJ, jaw problems, migraines, tooth sensitivity, and worn enamel.
Each case of teeth grinding is different and requires a personalized treatment which may include:
Like adults, subconscious teeth clenching in kids while awake suggests that the child is unknowingly picking up behaviors to manage daily stress so talk therapy can help tremendously. Either way, a visit to the dentist to evaluate the child’s teeth and explore treatment options ensures proactivity!