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Does Your Child Grind His or Her Teeth at Night?

Bruxism, or the grinding of teeth, is remarkably common in children and adults.  For some children, this tooth grinding is limited to daytime hours, but nighttime grinding (during sleep) is most prevalent.  Bruxism can lead to a wide range of dental problems, depending on the frequency of the behavior, the intensity of the grinding, and the underlying causes of the grinding.

A wide range of psychological, physiological, and physical factors may lead children to brux.  In particular, jaw misalignment (bad bite), stress, and traumatic brain injury are all thought to contribute to bruxism, although grinding can also occur as a side effect of certain medications.

What are some symptoms of bruxism?

In general, parents can usually hear intense grinding – especially when it occurs at nighttime.  Subtle daytime jaw clenching and grinding, however, can be difficult to pinpoint.  Oftentimes, general symptoms provide clues as to whether or not the child is bruxing, including:

  • Frequent complaints of headache.
  • Injured teeth and gums.
  • Loud grinding or clicking sounds.
  • Rhythmic tightening or clenching of the jaw muscles.
  • Unusual complaints about painful jaw muscles – especially in the morning.
  • Unusual tooth sensitivity to hot and cold foods.

How can bruxism damage my child’s teeth?

Bruxism is characterized by the grinding of the upper jaw against the lower jaw.  Especially in cases where there is vigorous grinding, the child may experience moderate to severe jaw discomfort, headaches, and ear pain.  Even if the child is completely unaware of nighttime bruxing (and parents are unable to hear it), the condition of the teeth provides your pediatric dentist with important clues.

First, chronic grinders usually show an excessive wear pattern on the teeth.  If jaw misalignment is the cause, tooth enamel may be worn down in specific areas.  In addition, children who brux are more susceptible to chipped teeth, facial pain, gum injury, and temperature sensitivity.  In extreme cases, frequent, harsh grinding can lead to the early onset of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

What causes bruxism?

Bruxism can be caused by several different factors. Most commonly, “bad bite” or jaw misalignment promotes grinding.  Pediatric dentists also notice that children tend to brux more frequently in response to life stressors.  If the child is going through a particularly stressful exam period or is relocating to a new school for example, nighttime bruxing may either begin or intensify.

Children with certain developmental disorders and brain injuries may be at particular risk for grinding.  In such cases, your pediatric dentist may suggest botulism injections to calm the facial muscles, or provide a protective nighttime mouthpiece.  If the onset of bruxing is sudden, current medications need to be evaluated.  Though bruxing is a rare side effect of specific medications, the medication itself may need to be switched for an alternate brand.

How is bruxism treated?

Bruxing spontaneously ceases by the age of thirteen in the majority of children.  In the meantime however, your pediatric dentist will continually monitor its effect on the child’s teeth and may provide an interventional strategy.

In general, the cause of the grinding dictates the treatment approach.  If the child’s teeth are badly misaligned, your pediatric dentist may take steps to correct this.  Some of the available options include: altering the biting surface of teeth with crowns, and beginning occlusal treatment.

If bruxing seems to be exacerbated by stress, your pediatric dentist may recommend relaxation classes, professional therapy, or special exercises.  The child’s pediatrician may also provide muscle relaxants to alleviate jaw clenching and reduce jaw spasms.

In cases where young teeth are sustaining significant damage, your pediatric dentist may suggest a specialized nighttime dental appliance such as a nighttime mouth guard.  Mouth guards stop tooth surfaces from grinding against each other, and look similar to a mouthpiece a person might wear during sports.  Bite splints or bite plates fulfill the same function and are almost universally successful in preventing grinding damage.

If you have questions or concerns about bruxism or grinding teeth, please contact our office.

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Testimonials

My mother is in a nursing home in Harrisville Michigan. She dropped her dentures and broke a tooth. The entire staff was in her room trying to find the broken tooth, but it must have fallen into the heat register or something. Anyway it never turned up. My brother, Rick, went to visit and called to tell me about it. "We have to do something," he told me. "I can't stand to see mom looking like this." He was planning to take a few days off and take me up north to see about getting her to the dentist to get her plate fixed. I went online and called several dentists in the area. They could not help me with the problem. Then I found Dr. Gregg Resnick DDS in Alpena. He said he could fix them and have them ready by the next day. I had our friends, Shirley and Tom Harmon, pick up the plate and take it to his office. The doctor called me (I live over 200 miles from where my mom is). Dr. Resnick was concerned that he might not be able to grind the tooth properly and that my mom wouldn't be able to chew properly. You see he was under the impression she had a full set of dentures and didn't realize that she had some lower teeth. He told me that although the tooth was broken mom would not have a problem chewing with it that way. "But, we do have a problem," I told him. "My brother can't stand to look at her with that broken tooth." He sighed and said, "Let's do it then." I could have hugged him through the phone. I promised him that if mom had a problem chewing that I would bring her handicap van and get her to his office the next day. Well, mom got her plate today. She ate dinner and said that she could chew just fine. I have Dr. Resnick to thank for this. He did me a favor and it worked out just fine. I wish there were more dentists like him. He and his staff gave me 5 star service.

Sandra C.

My name is Brad Boehm. I am a local physician in Alpena, Michigan. I had an erosion problem with my teeth that made them appear yellow and deformed. I went to see a cosmetic dentist in Atlanta, Georgia. The repair work to my teeth including veneers was over $70,000. I came home very depressed. While at a routine cleaning I discussed this with Dr. Gregg Resnick, my new dentist. He formulated a treatment plan that was identical to the plan from Georgia at less than one-third the cost. I am sure the cost in Georgia included partial rent payment for the mansion the clinic was located in.

I chose to have my teeth fixed by Dr Resnick and I truly could not be happier! During the treatment process minor adjustments were made. This required a quick end of the day visit to see Dr. Resnick instead of a day or two wasted flying to Atlanta. My family and friends comment all the time about my teeth and how I smile so much more. I would recommend Dr. Resnick to anyone who wishes to improve their smile.

Dr. Boehm

I first met Dr. Resnick 20 years ago when referred by a friend for emergency care. Now Nancy and I are thankful he has been our dentist ever since. We think of our appointments as going to an office where we will be treated as friends, not only by him, but also by the staff.

Dr. Resnick is always calm, patient, encouraging and knowledgeable in dental care. His staff reflects his demeanor. Furthermore, he is an interesting guy.

He is always interested in patients as individuals outside of the office. I remember telling him of impending surgery and later he called me at home to encourage and wish me well.

We recommend him to all our friends.

Robert and Nancy Sloan

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