Bruxism is the nighttime grinding (bruxism) or clenching of teeth in children.

Teeth grinding isn’t something most people are aware they are doing. Most parents only become aware that their child is a “bruxer” when their dentist notices signs of tooth wear, fracture of part of a tooth or filling, or damage to the jaw joint (TMJ Joint) caused by the disorder. Children usually grow out of this bruxing problem by age ten without causing any permanent damage to their teeth. Bruxism in young children does not mean that damage is occurring to his/her teeth or that dental problems will occur later in life.

My child grinds his teeth, licks his lips, bites his nails, etc. Help!

Believe it or not, habits like tooth grinding can have soothing effects on children, even if the sound of teeth grinding together is very uncomfortable for others to hear. There are a few biological reasons that explain why children so commonly grind their teeth.  The biting surfaces of baby teeth are more flat than permanent teeth, so it’s much easier for them to move against one another and produce loud noises. The jaw joint itself is also more flexible and less tightly fitting than in adulthood, so it’s easy for kids to move their jaws side to side.

Sometimes adults wear a mouth guard while they sleep to prevent wear on their teeth if they are known grinders. Pediatric dentists do not recommend this approach for young children because it’s difficult for kids to tolerate wearing a mouth guard while sleeping. Thankfully, the risks of tooth grinding are usually low. It can be a very disturbing noise and baby teeth can certainly wear down, but usually it does not result in tooth problems that require treatment. Do not wake your child if it is occurring in their sleep or put something between their teeth.  We will be happy to discuss this with you further at your child’s dental appointment.

If you’re concerned that your child has worn their teeth down to a dangerous level, broken or fractured teeth or are otherwise in pain from an oral habit, contact a pediatric dentist to evaluate these signs and symptoms. Nail biting is also known to wear down the edges of teeth, especially if it happens often and with heavy force. Fingernails are also likely to harbor bacteria that would be unhealthy to swallow, so it’s important that hands are kept clean.

Some children have a habit of rubbing their lips together to the point where skin around the lips can become very chapped or discolored. Like nail biting, it’s usually an unconscious habit but one worth addressing so that children don’t get any skin infections or permanent darkening around their lips. Consider using a product with lanolin to soothe dried lips, especially in cold dry weather, and encouraging kids to stop licking around their lips as a way to moisturize them.

For habits like tooth grinding, nail biting, lip licking, or thumb sucking, avoid directly punishing young children to get them to stop these habits. Kids are usually not intentionally doing these things so it’s better to simply praise them when you notice they are not engaged in the activity. Positive reinforcement can go a long way to motivate behavior change.

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The Kids Dentist - Mequon, WI

Our board-certified pediatric dentists provide dental care for infants, children and teenagers. We have consistently received 5 star ratings throughout social media. We have patients that travel from all over the metropolitan area including Mequon, Whitefish Bay, Thiensville, River Hills, Fox Point, Glendale and other northern Milwaukee suburbs.

If you would like for your child to have a great experience at a pediatric dentist, please call The Kids Dentist 262-241-0400 or complete an online appointment request.


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