You think your little angel is sleeping peacefully through the night, but then one night you hear it. It’s an unmistakable, surprisingly loud sound of teeth grinding. If your toddler is grinding his teeth, you might be concerned. What’s causing it and how do you stop your child from grinding their teeth?
Grinding is Common
A good number of young children grind their teeth at night. Called “bruxism,” this behavior typically begins at around four months of age and can go on for a few years.
Some experts believe that about 3 in every 10 children grind their teeth. It’s usually in response to some type of discomfort, but it generally isn’t serious. If your toddler is grinding his teeth, you are not alone.
In adults, tooth grinding is usually a sign of stress or anxiety. If you’re thinking that your toddler doesn’t have nearly as much to feel stressed out about as you do, you’re right. There are usually other reasons your that toddler is grinding his teeth.
Reasons Your Toddler is Grinding His Teeth
Here are some common things that might be causing the nighttime sounds coming from your toddler’s bedroom.
It’s a Tooth or Teething Problem
If your toddler’s teeth hurt, she might respond by rubbing at them, similar to the way we rub and grind our own teeth when they ache. She’s probably not even aware that she’s doing it. Your child’s tooth pain could be caused by:
- Teeth that aren’t fully aligned.
- New teeth growing in.
- A cracked tooth.
If your child is just going through teething pains, he’ll use the grinding as a way to ease the pain. In most cases, this is why your toddler is grinding his teeth. It’s a response to discomfort that helps her soothe herself.
When should you intervene? The only time you should worry is if there’s a damaged or cracked tooth that could be causing problems. If your toddler rubs his jaw frequently, that could be a sign of tooth or jaw damage. In that case, a visit to the dentist is in order.
What to do: If your child is teething or dealing with improperly aligned teeth, there’s no need to worry. If your toddler is grinding his teeth frequently and you notice jaw rubbing or anything else that points to a painful tooth problem, consult your child’s dentist.
Something’s Making Her Anxious
Although anxiety is usually the reason adults grind their teeth, it can happen to children as well. Some children are sensitive to stress in the home. If there’s been fighting or yelling in the house, your toddler might feel tension that interferes with her sleep. Others can feel upset by a change in routine, a new sibling or a new environment.
If your toddler is grinding his teeth the night before school, there might be something going on with a teacher or a fellow pupil that has upset him. Your best approach is to find out what’s causing this issue and see if there’s a way to put it to rest.
What to do: If you think your little one is upset about something at home or at preschool, give them verbal and physical reassurance that everything is going to be all right. Practice any soothing rituals you have that normally helps her sleep.
It’s important to help your little ones deal with their emotional concerns. If your toddler is grinding his teeth now, the best thing you can do is intervene gently. Stress-related teeth grinding can continue into adolescence and adulthood if the source of the stress isn’t resolved.
It Might Have a Medical Cause
Certain medical conditions can cause teeth grinding in children. These include cerebral palsy and hyperactivity. If your toddler is grinding his teeth and it’s related to a medical condition, talk to your doctor about ways to help your child. Some children also grind their teeth as a response to feeling sick.
What to do: If you’re already monitoring your child’s health, take note of any sign that the grinding is adding to the problem. Mention your concerns at your next pediatric appointment. Chances are good there’s nothing serious happening, but it’s always wise to make sure.
Should You Be Worried That Your Toddler is Grinding His Teeth?
The good news is, you probably shouldn’t be. There are three good reasons for that.
She’ll outgrow it.
Most child experts agree that toddlers usually stop grinding their teeth on their own. They apparently just decide to stop one day and that’s the end of that. It usually happens around age six. By then, they should be snoozing through the night with no grinding or chomping.
What to do: Go ahead and let them grind, but keep an eye out for any harm they might be causing their teeth or gums. Consult your pediatrician if your toddler is grinding his teeth past the age of six.
It won’t hurt her teeth.
One of the reasons we don’t want adults to grind their teeth is that it could damage their teeth. With a toddler, you don’t have to be concerned about that. It probably won’t do any damage and if it does, those teeth are coming out anyway.
If the tooth fairy has already come and gone and your older child is still grinding away, talk to your child’s dentist about a tooth guard he can wear at night. The night dam keeps teeth protected and can stop your child from grinding their teeth. This usually isn’t necessary until your child’s permanent teeth come in.
What to do: Ask your child’s dentist to make sure there are no tooth fractures or other problems that could be causing the grinding. Ask if a night dam is a good idea.
The noise is the worst part.
Although your toddler’s grinding may cause you some worry, it’s good to know that it’s not a serious condition and that the noise you have to hear is probably the worst part. As long as your little one doesn’t seem to be in pain and is sleeping through the night, you just have to put up with the noise a little longer.
What to do: Ensure that your toddler is sleeping peacefully and well despite the grinding.
What Not to Do
The worst thing you can do with a toddler who’s grinding their teeth is wake them up to stop your child from grinding their teeth. Doing this will frighten your child and interfere with his ability to develop a regular sleep pattern.
In general, trying to stop your child from grinding their teeth is a bad idea for several reasons.
- They don’t know they’re doing it.
- Their reasons for doing it aren’t things that they can control.
- If your toddler is grinding his teeth because of anxiety, this will just make his anxiety worse.
- It isn’t necessary. Tooth grinding more than likely isn’t hurting your child.
The Takeaway on Tooth Grinding
Your own worry is probably the worst part about learning that your toddler is grinding his teeth. The condition itself usually isn’t serious, and it usually stops once your child has finished teething. If you have concerns related to tooth damage, talk to your child’s dentist. If you toddler is grinding his teeth because of anxiety, talk to your child. With luck and a little patience, you can get past the grinding and sleep tight.