As a parent, when your child is sleeping, the only noises you want to hear them make are the sounds of soft breaths, sweet dreams, and maybe an occasional sigh. The last thing you want to hear is the harsh sound of grinding and gnashing teeth, also called bruxism. However, bruxism is actually very common in children – but it can be particularly distressing for parents. Hearing your child grind their teeth at night is a frightening sound and it evokes much anxiety in parents. In fact, Dr. Chuck Odion says that some parents even compare the sound to that of construction!

Why do kids grind their teeth? What are the effects of teeth grinding? How can I stop my child from grinding their teeth? Today we are going to provide you with answers to these very common questions parents ask at Redwood Pediatric Dentistry regularly. First, watch this short video with Dr. Jason Horgesheimer and Dr. Chuck that explains more about teeth grinding and how it’s handled.

What is Bruxism?

The medical term used to describe the grinding of teeth and clenching of jaws is referred to as “bruxism”. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, three out of every ten kids will clench their jaws or grind their teeth. While tooth grinding usually occurs at night time when your child sleeps, you may notice the bruxism randomly throughout the day as well. Most children will eventually outgrow this habit.

What are the Causes of Bruxism?

Dentists don’t always know the exact reason why a particular child grinds their teeth, but there are a few different known causes for bruxism. It’s important to note that misalignment issues and pain are causes for bruxism that children typically outgrow. However, if your child grinds their teeth as a response to stress or as a symptom of hyperactivity, the habit may be harder to break.

Misalignment Issues

“Teeth are meant to snap together like Legos. If a lego is off you slide it around until it snaps together – and that’s subconsciously what they’re doing at night.” – Dr. Chuck

As Dr. Chuck explained, sometimes when a child has misaligned teeth where the top and bottom aren’t connecting, they may grind them.


Some kids might exhibit bruxism as a coping mechanism while they are dealing with pain of some sort that might be from an earache or teething. Just like you would rub a muscle that is sore, they grind their teeth to help ease the pain and discomfort.

“Teeth grinding is often associated with the eruption or coming in of new molars.” –  Dr. Jason


Stress can be a reason why a child might grind their teeth or clench their jaws. Typically a child experiences stress in the form of either tension or anger. If your child is worried about something coming up at school or a new change in their life they must adjust to (like a new teacher or sibling) – they might grind their teeth. Arguments with parents or other household members can also cause the child enough stress that they either clench their jaws or grind their teeth.


It is not uncommon to find a child who has hyperactivity and bruxism, as the two often run hand in hand. Because the child is often “sped up” they may grind their teeth as a response to that increased energy running through their body.


There are some medical conditions that can cause a child to grind their teeth, such as cerebral palsy. There are also several different types of medications (especially those used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD), that indicate bruxism is a common side effect.

What are the Effects of Bruxism?

Some children may experience headaches or earaches that are caused by the grinding of teeth. In most cases, the parents are the ones most greatly affected because the grinding sound can be quite bothersome and cause anxiety.

The vast majority of bruxism cases go undetected and the child experiences no ill effects from the habit. Dr. Jason explains that most kids “require no treatment at all.” He then goes on to explain that “only if they have severe wear patterns occurring would we ever recommend a mouthguard.”

As Dr. Jason touched upon, there are some children who can experience ill effects of bruxism, such as:

  • Chipped teeth
  • Wearing down of tooth enamel
  • Increased sensitivity to temperature
  • Facial pain
  • Jaw problems including temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ)

Keep in mind that in children, the cases of TMJ are rare and this would only occur if the child is doing a lot of clenching and grinding.

What are the Signs of Bruxism?

Things you should watch out for regarding bruxism include:

  • Grinding and gnashing noises while your child is sleeping
  • Complaints of a sore face or jaw when the child wakes up in the morning
  • Pain with chewing

If you are concerned that your child is grinding their teeth and you are worried about the health and integrity of their teeth, you can bring them to our experienced pediatric dentists. One of our dentists will perform an examination in which they look for any type of unusual wear and tear and spray water on the teeth to watch for signs of increased sensitivity to temperature.

What is the Recommended Treatment for Bruxism?

As Dr. Jason explained, typically there is no treatment needed. Most kids will grow out of this phase without any ill effects on the integrity of their adult teeth that start to come in as the grinding usually only occurs on the baby teeth which will fall out.

If the child is experiencing unusual patterns of wear and tear or complaining of facial or jaw pain, our pediatric dentists may recommend a special mouth guard to be worn at night. This type of protective mouthguard is similar to the ones worn by athletes and our dentists will create the appliance to perfectly mold to your child’s teeth.

How can I Help My Child with Bruxism?

Depending on the cause for your child to grind their teeth, there are a few different approaches that can be taken to help the child reduce the bruxism.

  • Helping the child relax before bed by reading them a book, giving them a bath, or putting on some soothing music can help decrease bruxism.
  • If you feel your child is grinding their teeth as a response to stress, open communication can help you find a way to help them. Talk to your child and ask them what’s on their mind and if anything has been bothering them.
  • When a child is taking a medication that can cause teeth grinding, be sure that you bring this issue up with your pediatrician and seek alternative medications or therapies when possible.

Have you noticed your child exhibiting signs of bruxism? Are you concerned that there may be severe damage happening to their teeth as a result? If so, you should make an appointment at Redwood Pediatric Dentistry. Call us today at (801) 281-8881.