Some children grind their teeth or clench their jaw, especially during deep sleep or times of stress. The medical term for teeth grinding is 'bruxism'.
If your child sucks their thumb, bites their nails, gnaws on pencils and toys, or chews the inside of their cheeks, they may also be grinding their teeth at night.
About one-third of children grind or clench their teeth. Most will grow out of it.
Why do children grind their teeth?
The causes of teeth grinding include:
- misalignment of the top and bottom teeth
- pain, such as from an earache or teething
- stress, perhaps from nervous tension or anger
What are the effects of teeth grinding?
Teeth grinding will not usually harm your child’s teeth. In many cases there are no effects and you would not even know it was happening. But some children get headaches or earaches the following morning.
Sometimes, teeth grinding can lead to problems. It can wear down tooth enamel, chip the teeth, increase the sensitivity of the teeth to heat and cold, and cause pain to the face and the jaw.
If you suspect your child is grinding their teeth, visit your child's dentist.
How is teeth grinding treated?
If the effects of teeth grinding are mild or absent, the best thing to do is to keep an eye on the situation and see if your child outgrows the habit. Most children stop when baby teeth are replaced by permanent teeth, which are much more sensitive to pain than baby teeth.
Regular trips to the dentist should keep any potential problem under control. Sometimes, if grinding and clenching make your child's face and jaw sore, or if their teeth are damaged, your dentist will prescribe a special night guard for protection.
If you think your child grinds their teeth because of stress, it might help to relax them before bedtime, for example by reading a story or playing music, giving them a warm bath, and talking to them about possible sources of stress in their lives.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: April 2021