An estimated 30% of Americans experience bruxism, which is the chronic clenching and grinding of one’s teeth.  

Of that number, between 14% and 17% of children grind their teeth. Stress, which is the most common cause of bruxism in adults, is not always the cause of bruxism in children. 

Other possible causes of teeth grinding in children include:

  • irritation in the mouth
  • allergies
  • misaligned teeth
  • earaches
  • hyperactivity

Since there isn’t a single known cause of bruxism, it is important to understand the symptoms that may require treatment.

The symptoms of chronic teeth grinding include:

  • dull headaches
  • jaw soreness
  • teeth that are painful or loose
  • fractured teeth   

Recognizing the symptoms of bruxism in your child is crucial for healthy dental development. Prompt treatment and ongoing support will save your child pain (and money!) in the years to come.

How do night guards help with teeth grinding?

The most effective night guards are custom made by a dental care provider. 

“Boil and bite” night guards found at the drugstore are not custom fitted. They are usually overly bulky and may even come out during the night while grinding. Even worse, these store-bought night guards are made of a rubber-based material that actually encourages clenching and grinding, so it’s completely counterproductive.  

Custom-fitted night guards are created based on your specific grinding pattern and are shaped so it will be most effective. Molds are taken of upper and lower teeth, and the final night guard is created offsite at a dental laboratory.  

What treatments for bruxism are best for young children?

In general, pediatric dentists don’t recommend night guards for young children, even if they have bruxism. Night guards can negatively affect how new teeth grow in and align with other teeth. 

Since children’s teeth and jaws change and grow so quickly, teeth grinding is not usually a damaging habit. In fact, most children outgrow any unconscious teeth grinding habits by adolescence.

For parents who are concerned about a young child’s teeth grinding, stress relief tactics are the best treatment:

  • Focus on getting ample hydration during the day
  • Turn off all electronics two hours before bedtime
  • Relax before bedtime by taking a warm bath or shower, listening to a few minutes of soothing music, or reading a book
  • Integrate massage and stretching into their bedtime routine
  • Regularly ask your child about what may be upsetting or worrying them
  • Directly address big life changes (such as moving or new family members) and respectfully discuss your child’s concerns

If basic stress relievers aren’t enough to stop your child’s teeth grinding, contact their pediatric dentist for further evaluation.

Some studies say that one in three children with bruxism will still have it when they are adults. Once all the adult teeth are in place and your child has finished with braces, using a night guard becomes less of an issue. Therefore, a night guard may be recommended* for older teenagers. 

While night guards are not commonly recommended for children, mouth guards are HIGHLY recommended for all children who play sports! 

Not sure how to tell the difference between night guards and mouth guards? Read our previous article about the practical differences between them.