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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.

Testimonials.

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Testimonials

If you want to know what I think of Dr. Afzali and her staff all you really need to know is that I live in Portland and I fly to San Diego to see Dr. Afzali for all my dental work. That might seem a bit extreme, and perhaps it is, but hear me out before you decide. A couple of years ago when I was living in the Bay Area I had to have one of my front teeth removed and dental implant inserted in its place by a dentist in the Bay Area. The implant looked a little shorter and darker than my other teeth, and even made my gum above it look a bit darker than the adjacent gum. In short, it didn't look natural. So I wasn't completely satisfied with how my smile looked, but I thought that was the best that could be done. It wasn't.

Last summer while I was in San Diego visiting my parents I went to Dr. Afzali for a routine cleaning. She examined my mouth and immediately asked me whether I was happy with the way my implant looked. When I said I wasn't, she explained that she could make it look better and possibly even indistinguishable from my other teeth. She was right. My implant looks just like my other teeth, and my gum is pink again. In fact, my new implant looks so natural that I sometimes forget it's an implant. I couldn't be happier. One final point. Dr. Afazli's entire staff is great. When I walk in they all make me feel like I'm the most important patient they have. And Julie is particularly great. Because I live in Portland my visits to Dr. Afzali's office had to me perfectly timed with receipt of the various parts necessary for my procedures. Julie made sure that everything arrived when necessary, without fail, so that no flights or appointments had to be rescheduled.

Riley P.

Recently, while on a trip from Canada to visit friends in San Diego, I broke a tooth. I phoned RB Dentistry and was given an appointment without delay. Dr. Mary Afzali was reassuring and professional and did an excellent job fixing the broken tooth. Her dental assistant, Marinette, was kind and gentle and made me feel comfortable throughout the procedure. Julie at Reception was welcoming, warm and made me laugh with her wonderful sense of humour and handled the insurance processing with no complications. Thank you so much Dr. Afzali, Mari and Julie for one of the most pleasant dental appointments I've had in a long time! Hope to see you in Vancouver, B.C. sometime!

Pam C.

I know I am in good hands with Dr. Afzali at RB Family Dentistry. The cavity fillings and tooth root fillings I got there were done so well that when I went to the Southwest College Dental Hygenist school to help out a friend, they could barely even detect the fillings! The teachers there were very impressed. At RB Family Dentistry, the staff and hygenists are friendly, organized and very knowledgable, and the Dr. always gives me as much time as I need and answers all of my questions. The office is beautiful and state-of-the-art. They never try to sell me on additional products or services that I don't need.

Scripps Ranch M

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RB Family & Cosmetic Dentistry
16776 Bernardo Center Dr. #105 San Diego, CA 92128
Phone: (858) 485-0044 URL of Map