Tooth Grinding (Bruxism)

What is tooth grinding?

Tooth grinding, or bruxism, happens when a child clenches his upper or lower teeth and rubs the two sets of teeth together. No one knows for certain why some children grind their teeth. Some think that it is because the child's top and bottom teeth do not fit together comfortably. This discomfort causes the child to grind his teeth to make the teeth feel better and later turns into a habit. Others believe that children grind their teeth because they feel tense, fearful, or angry. Still others suggest that children could have an allergy or a nutritional problem. None of these ideas have been proven by research.

How common is tooth grinding?

Dental exams of children show that 1 in 6 children have done some tooth grinding. Also, some parents report the behavior even though their child's teeth appear normal at the dentist. Altogether, 1 in every 3 children grind their teeth at some time in their childhood.

When does tooth grinding usually occur?

Almost all children that grind their teeth do it only at night. The behavior is most common in children around the ages of 5 and 6, however it can occur at any age. Grinding the teeth during the daytime should make parents more concerned than if the child is doing it only at night.

Will my child's teeth be harmed?

Usually the wear to teeth from grinding does not harm the teeth. The baby teeth (also called primary teeth) can show a lot of wear to their surfaces without causing pain or other problems. If the teeth get very worn down, dental problems, such as tooth infections, can occur. See your dentist if your child has pain and keep appointments for routine checkups.

What can I do to help my child?

If you or your child's health care provider sees wear on the tooth surface, it is important to see a dentist who specializes in children. Dentists can polish the teeth to make them fit together more comfortably or make special devices for the mouth that are usually worn at night to keep your child from wearing away the teeth.

Even though and emotional cause of grinding has not been proven, it is a good idea to help a child talk about how they feel and anything that has caused tension, fear, or anger. Do this in the course of the bedtime routine. For example, when your child is telling you about his day, ask some questions about how those events made him feel. While this may or may not help with your child's with tooth grinding, it does let him know that you care about how he feels. It is probably best not to draw attention to the tooth grinding itself.

Most children will stop tooth grinding on their own without the need for special treatments. Mention tooth grinding to your child's dentist at your child's next regular appointment.

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2005-10-24
Last reviewed: 2006-08-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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