Is your child's teeth grinding normal?

A dentist and a dental hygienist clean an 8-year-old child’s teeth at Kool Smiles’ Candler Road office in this 2003 photo. KEITH HADLEY /AJC

Teeth grinding – which is also known as bruxism – is very common in children, especially among toddlers and preschoolers.

If you hear your child doing this at night, or if they have symptoms of teeth grinding, here's what you need to know about whether this habit is anything to be concerned about:

How many kids grind their teeth?

About 20-30 percent of kids grind their teeth or clench their jaws. They usually outgrow it, often by age 6, but some will continue to grind their teeth beyond this age.

If you have any concerns or if your child is experiencing discomfort, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends talking to your child's dentist about the possible causes and solutions. Regular dental visits can also help detect signs of bruxism before you may even become aware of it.

What makes kids grind their teeth?

Children can grind their teeth for a variety of reasons. In adults, it's usually caused by stress, and although that can also be true of children, it can also be caused by any of the following, according to Healthline and the ADA:

  • Misaligned teeth
  • An attempt to relieve pain, possibly from an earache or teething. Bruxism can be more common when primary or adult teeth are emerging since this can cause pain.
  • A result of certain medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy
  • An effect of taking certain medications
  • Allergies

In some cases, the exact cause can't be identified.

What are some signs that your child is grinding his or her teeth?

The most obvious way to tell if your child has bruxism is by listening to them when they sleep or asking a sibling who shares the same room to listen for grinding noises.

Other signs can be more subtle, and they can include the following:

  • Jaw pain
  • Frequently rubbing the jaw
  • Headaches
  • Earaches
  • Facial pain
  • Pain when chewing
  • Chipped, broken or cracked teeth
  • Worn down tooth enamel
  • Disrupted sleep

Can teeth grinding be treated?

Kids will outgrow teeth grinding in many cases, and often no treatment is needed. It's not recommended that you wake your child up when you hear him grinding his teeth, since this won't solve the problem and will disrupt his ability to get a good night's sleep.

If your child's teeth grinding is caused by a problem such as an earache or stress, this underlying problem can be addressed. Ask your child specific questions to see if stress can be an issue, such as asking how they feel before bed and if they're worried about anything at home or school. Ask if they're angry at anyone or about something.

Going to bed may be stressful for your child, so you may find that establishing a relaxing bedtime routine can help set the tone for a more peaceful night.

If your child is somewhat older and teeth grinding is causing a significant amount of pain or problems such as misalignment or worn-down tooth enamel, her dentist may recommend a night guard. This retainer-like flexible piece of plastic is worn over the upper gums only at night. This type of guard can be very effective in treating teeth grinding. It's generally not used on younger kids, however, since their teeth are constantly changing, and they may not be able to wear it consistently.

In most cases, teeth grinding is something that your child will outgrow, probably without the need for treatment.