Bruxism in children: how to help them stop grinding their teeth?

Although bruxism is well known in adults, the situation is quite different for children. We are often caught off guard when our little ones suffer from it.

How do you know if your child is bruxing? What are the solutions? Let’s take stock of this phenomenon so that we don’t have to worry about it!

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is a behaviour involving involuntary, repeated contractions of the manducatory muscles with occlusal contacts unrelated to nutrition. These muscle contractions can be continuous, causing teeth to clench, or rhythmic. The latter are responsible for tapping, rocking or grinding of the teeth.

Bruxism can occur during waking or sleeping phases.

When awake, bruxism is most often expressed by clenching of the jaws. Teeth grinding is more associated with sleep. However, it can also occur during wakefulness in neurological diseases.

What causes bruxism in children?

There are two types of bruxism according to their origin:

  • Bruxism linked to a psychiatric or neurological illness such as epilepsy, autism, Down’s syndrome or trisomy 21… Certain pharmacological treatments or drugs can also cause bruxism.
  • Idiopathic bruxism, i.e. with no apparent cause. The origin is not yet established with certainty, but specialists agree that it is a reactivation of our central nervous system favoured by anxiety, respiratory disorders or certain periods of our sleep.

Anxiety, stress, school life or a change in family life are factors that favour the appearance of bruxism. The expression “clenching your teeth” illustrates this perfectly. It is a matter of holding on in the face of a difficult situation. Bruxism is generally unconscious, but if you are attentive you can sometimes correct yourself. Who hasn’t caught themselves with their jaw clenched under stress? This situation is normal occasionally, but it should not become a habit, otherwise it will be problematic.

Other causes of idiopathic bruxism include:

  • Sleep: bruxism is more frequent at certain times of the night. Light sleep, micro-awakenings or just before REM sleep are the most likely times. Bruxism attacks in children are generally short, but can amount to up to 10 minutes per night.
  • Respiratory problems: difficulty in breathing due to illness, jaw position or enlarged tonsils will cause a reduction in oxygen, which is a source of stress for the body. The child automatically opens the mouth while sleeping to facilitate ventilation. The mouth becomes dry. Bruxism helps to promote the production of saliva.
  • Studies have shown that bruxism is not caused by an occlusion problem. The latter would only have a minimal impact.

Various factors can predispose children to the appearance of this disorder:

  • a child of parents who are bruxers is more likely to be affected in turn by mimicry or genetic factors,
  • the child’s posture,
  • prolonged breastfeeding beyond the first year…

What are the particularities of bruxism in children?

Bruxism can start as soon as the first incisors come out, often around the age of 1 year. Its incidence decreases with age and the appearance of permanent teeth. Some studies estimate that 20.5% of children between 6 and 12 years of age suffer from bruxism. It is therefore a fairly widespread behaviour that needs to be detected in order to be treated.

It is tempting to compare bruxism in children to that in adults, but these are two very different problems. Children are still growing and their milk teeth are still present. They do not have the same shape or constitution as those of adults. Milk teeth have a more porous, thinner and more fragile enamel. They are therefore worn down more quickly by repeated rubbing. This exposes the child to dental hypersensitivity, infections or jaw joint disorders.

How can I tell if my child is bruxing?

It is often the nightly grinding that alerts the family. Some types of bruxism, such as clenching of the teeth, are silent and can go completely unnoticed.

So what are the warning signs?

  • Teeth grinding or tapping, as mentioned above. It is important to keep the door open at night to make it easier to hear.
  • Frequent headaches, especially on waking. These are caused by severe jaw tension.
  • The child may report pain in the jaw just in front of the ears.
  • A wet or drooling pillow is a sign of mouth breathing. This can lead to dark circles, chapped lips and snoring. Ventilation disorders are a possible cause of bruxism. Children who talk in their sleep or drool are 1.6 times more likely to be affected.
  • A state of stress or anxiety.

Beware that these symptoms are only leads to suspect a potential bruxism. The diagnosis can only be made with certainty by the dentist. He will first have to ask you various questions in order to get to know your child better, carry out an examination of the inside of the mouth and face and then possibly complete it with additional tests.

Who can help you?

The first thing to do is to check that it is really bruxism. The treatment depends on the cause. Several professionals can therefore intervene, individually or together, to treat your child’s bruxism.

Treatment by a dentist or orthodontist

The dentist may suggest a mouthpiece to protect the teeth. It is not effective in treating bruxism but it can limit wear. Care must be taken with its use in children, as it can hinder the growth of the palate and the emergence of permanent teeth.

It can make collages to help the child to become aware of his bruxism. It will also help to monitor the condition of the teeth and jaw.

The orthodontist can, in certain types of bruxism, propose appliances to intervene on the spacing of the palate.

ENT treatment of bruxism in children

A consultation with an ENT specialist is useful for bruxism resulting from breathing disorders. He looks for the presence of an obstruction: enlarged tonsils etc … If this is the case, an ablation can be proposed.

Psysical therapists can help

Psysical therapy can also be a solution. The therapist will check the mobility of the bones of the face, the tension of the jaw muscles, the mobility of the cervicals…

Through appropriate techniques, he will allow the relaxation of the contracted muscles and act on the posture of the head. As we have seen, children suffering from bruxism have a particular head posture. In cases of stress or anxiety, your therapist will act on different structures such as the cranium, the stomach or the diaphragm to alleviate the feeling of “ball in the stomach” and to favour breathing.

Psychology in case of stress

In the case of bruxism secondary to anxiety, relaxation techniques, sophrology or a consultation with a psychologist can help your child.