If you have a toddler at home, then you know that toddlers tend to be experts when it comes to ear-splitting noises. Whining, shrieking, repeating the same word a zillion times at top volume…you may sometimes find yourself wondering how such an adorable little person can make such a headache-inducing racket!
Here’s another drive-you-up-the-wall noise you may have started hearing lately: the sound of your toddler grinding her teeth in her sleep. The sound of grinding teeth is an awful one, to be sure, but for some toddlers, it amounts to more than an obnoxious noise — it’s a persistent problem that may have you starting to worry.
This article will explain the causes and symptoms of toddler teeth grinding and clenching as well as ways to treat it and how to deal with the problem at home.
Facts About Toddler Teeth Grinding and Clenching
The problem of teeth grinding (known as “bruxism”) is a fairly common one among toddlers and preschoolers. The Journal of Dentistry for Children estimates that about 38% of toddlers grind or clench their teeth. Most toddlers tend to grind their teeth at night, and the problem usually begins around age 3 (although it can begin much earlier, even as early as 1!)
For most toddlers, this habit is short-lived; the vast majority will outgrow it by age 6. However, some toddlers will continue the problem later into childhood, and a small percentage will continue to grind their teeth at night as teens and adults.
Causes of Toddler Teeth Grinding and Clenching
There’s no established cause of teeth grinding; rather, research done over the years points to an array of possible causes. Some are physical, and others are psychological.
Physical causes of toddler teeth grinding include:
- Pain, either from an illness, like an ear infection, or from teething. Teeth grinding is a way that some toddlers cope with the pain in their sleep.
- Improper alignment of the top and bottom teeth (called “malocclusion”).
- Medical issues. These can be everything from dehydration and nutritional deficiencies to allergies and even pinworms!
Psychological causes of toddler teeth grinding are stress and anxiety. For toddlers, this stress can be caused by things like the birth of a new sibling, moving to a new house, weaning from breastfeeding, a change in schedule, etc.
How Toddler Teeth Grinding and Clenching Affects Sleep
It seems like so many things can keep a toddler from sleeping well, doesn’t it? Sleep regressions can affect a toddler’s sleep; so can sleep disorders like (like sleep apnea). And we can add teeth grinding to the list of things that may keep a toddler awake!
Teeth grinding can disrupt sleep and cause your toddler to wake frequently at night. The noise itself can be so loud, it’ll wake your toddler (or even the people in the next room!) And your toddler’s teeth grinding may cause her to have frequent dull headaches or jaw pain, which may disturb both her nighttime sleep and her naps.
Treating Toddler Teeth Grinding and Clenching
Generally, toddler teeth grinding or clenching isn’t considered a serious problem and doesn’t usually require treatment (since the majority of toddlers outgrow this problem before their permanent teeth come in).
However, if you’re concerned that your toddler’s teeth grinding is serious, take him to see a dentist. The dentist will be able to evaluate if the teeth grinding is causing any major problems like worn enamel or fractures in the teeth. If necessary, the dentist may prescribe a custom-fitted mouth guard for your toddler to wear at night.
Dealing With Your Toddler’s Teeth Grinding and Clenching At Home
A dentist probably won’t consider your toddler’s teeth grinding or clenching serious enough to treat, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t causing problems at home! So what can you do to help your toddler’s teeth grinding?
First, try to establish the cause of the teeth grinding or clenching. If the problem is physical, treat it as best you can (if the problem is mild) or consider taking your toddler to his pediatrician if you suspect something serious, like an illness or a nutritional deficiency. Pain caused by teething or mild illness can be treated with children’s Tylenol. And if your toddler’s teeth grinding or clenching is causing him to have headaches or jaw pain, those can be treated with children’s pain reliever, too.
If you suspect that the teeth grinding is related to stress or anxiety, do what you can to help your toddler relax. Work on establishing a calming bedtime routine, complete with a warm bath, relaxing music, bedtime stories, etc. This can do wonders to help relax your toddler right before she falls asleep.
If your toddler is anxious about something specific, talk through her feelings with her (if she’s old enough to talk) and do your best to provide reassurance. This can be hard with a young toddler, but even repeating what your toddler says back to her (so that she knows you understand) and then repeating a calming phrase like “It’s okay, mommy’s here” again and again can help to ease a toddler’s anxiety. “Toddlerspeak” is an excellent way to communicate with even a younger toddler.
There’s no “cure” for toddler teeth grinding and, unfortunately, no way to prevent it from happening (aside from doing what you can to keep your toddler relaxed!) Like so many other things, your toddler’s teeth grinding is probably a phase that will more than likely pass with time and just needs to be “waited out”. If your parenting instincts are telling you it’s more serious than that, however, follow your gut and seek medical help.
Does your toddler grind his teeth at night? What tips do you have on dealing with teeth grinding?
Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of Toddler Sleep Secrets, our e-Book offering tips to help your toddler sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better. For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.