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Why does my child grind her teeth?
Experts don't know for sure what causes teeth grinding (or bruxism, as dentists call it), but they point fingers at tension or anxiety, pain (from earaches or teething, for example), and malocclusion (a dental term for when the teeth don't line up just right.) Some also suggest that breathing problems – from a stuffy nose or allergies – may play a role. And there's some evidence that pinworms are sometimes the culprit.
Finally, your child may just be getting used to the sensation of having teeth in her mouth. Teeth grinding isn't uncommon among babies who are getting their first teeth, beginning at around 5 or 6 months of age. It's also common among children who are starting to get their permanent teeth, at around 6 years of age.
About 38 percent of children grind their teeth. The average age for starting the habit is around 3 1/2 years, and the average age for stopping is 6 – though, of course, people of all ages grind their teeth.
Your child is a bit more likely to grind her teeth if you do. She's also more likely to grind her teeth if she drools or talks in her sleep. Almost all teeth grinding happens at night, though some kids do it during the day, too.
Is teeth grinding bad for my child?
In most cases, teeth grinding sounds worse than it is. It's very likely that your child isn't doing any damage to his teeth and he'll soon outgrow the habit.
Mention your child's grinding to his dentist, though, so she can check his teeth for wear and any resulting problems, like pulp exposure, cavities, or fractures. Also have your child checked if he complains of pain in his face or jaw during the day, because this can be a result of zealous teeth grinding.
Can I do anything to help her stop?
Although the sound can be disconcerting, you'll probably just have to wait for your child to grow out of the habit. In the meantime, it won't hurt to work on a soothing bedtime routine – maybe a leisurely soak in the tub, a little back rub, soothing music, or extra cuddling in the rocking chair.
If your child is teething or has an ear infection, ask your doctor about giving her the proper dose of acetaminophen or (if she's 6 months or older) ibuprofen to ease the discomfort.
Some moms of babies report that they offer their little ones a pacifier when they start grinding their chicklets. (It may not stop the grinding, but they prefer listening to the squeak of a pacifier than teeth grinding together.)
If there's a problem with the way your child's teeth are lining up, the dentist may be able to polish them to fit together better. Older children who grind regularly are sometimes fitted with a night guard – a plastic device fitted to the mouth to prevent clenching and grinding of the teeth during sleep. But your child's dentist probably won't consider this until your child has at least some permanent teeth, around age 5 or so.