Why Do Babies Grind Their Teeth and Should You Be Worried?

Many parents worry when they hear their baby grinding their teeth, but is there a reason for concern? This common condition may actually help with proper jaw development as your child grows. Teeth grinding, formally known as bruxism, usually does not require special treatment.

Key takeaways:

Why is my baby grinding teeth?

Teeth grinding is fairly common for babies; experts estimate about 3 in 5 children grind their teeth. Usually, there's no cause for alarm because most children stop grinding their teeth before their permanent teeth come in.

A few possible explanations include:

  • Alignment. Baby teeth often do not align appropriately, leading to a natural grinding noise when the top and bottom teeth meet.
  • Pain. Babies grind their teeth to soothe pain caused by teething or ear pain.
  • Stress. Changes in routine can be stressful for babies, toddlers, and children and may lead to teeth grinding as a soothing mechanism.
  • Medical. Some medical conditions like cerebral palsy, hyperactivity, autism, and certain medications are associated with bruxism.

Regardless of the exact reason, most children grow out of teeth grinding without formal treatment before permanent teeth come in.

Is baby teeth grinding harmful?

Bruxism is typically harmless, and most babies and toddlers aren't even aware they are doing it. Experts believe teeth grinding during the toddler years actually helps lead to appropriate jaw growth and development. In rare cases, bruxism can lead to complications that may need treatment.

Harmful consequences of baby teeth grinding can include:

  • Headaches. Caused by stress or clenching and grinding the teeth together.
  • Temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ). TMJ is pain and muscle tightness near your ears, where your upper and lower jaw connect.
  • Enamel damage. Enamel is the hard surface of your teeth. If damaged, it is easier for cavities to form.
  • Chipped teeth. Also, from excessive wear and tear to the teeth.

How to stop baby from grinding teeth

It is challenging to stop teeth grinding in young children because they are often unaware that it is happening. It's irritating for parents to listen to teeth grinding, but it doesn't hurt your baby. If your baby seems happy and is acting normal, you don't need to do anything.

However, if your baby seems fussy or uncomfortable, he may be experiencing ear or teething pain. In this case, you can try comfort measures, such as:

  • Teething rings. Cool teething rings soothe irritated gums.
  • Cool, wet washcloth. Rub a cool, wet washcloth on your baby's gums to provide comfort.
  • Medication. If your baby is very fussy, pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) can help. Use age-appropriate medication and follow the directions on the box.
  • Routine. Stress is often associated with teeth grinding in older children and adults. Babies experience stress when they don't know what to expect. Routines help babies remain calm and feel safe.

If bruxism occurs due to a medical condition like cerebral palsy, talk with your child's doctor or dentist to see if further treatment needs to happen. Otherwise, don't stress! Your baby will most likely grow out of this phase without any memories of it or permanent damage to their teeth.

How chronic bruxism is treated

If you are concerned about your baby's teeth grinding, it never hurts to make an appointment with their pediatrician or schedule their first dentist appointment. Pediatric dental experts recommend scheduling the first dentist visit around your baby's first birthday.

Early dental visits aim to help your child get familiar and comfortable with the process of going to the dentist. They also allow the dentist a chance to identify any potential concerns.

The most common treatment for chronic bruxism is a wait-and-see approach because it typically disappears on its own by the time a child is 9 or 10.

In rare cases, bruxism in young childhood can lead to dental problems later in life. Most dentists will monitor your child's oral development, watching for excessive damage or pain. Sometimes, physical therapy is needed to help manage pain and muscle tightness. Older children may need a mouth guard at night to decrease the grinding that causes wear and tear.

Final word

Bruxism, also known as teeth grinding, is a common condition that causes concern for many parents. Experts don't know exactly why babies and toddlers grind their teeth, but most children stop long before their permanent teeth come in without treatment.

You can offer traditional teething comfort measures if your baby seems uncomfortable when they grind their teeth. However, if your baby is happy and healthy, no treatments are necessary most of the time. If you still have concerns, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician or a pediatric dentist.

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