The sound of someone grinding their teeth in their sleep is amazingly loud — and creepy. Just ask Vanessa Billings*, whose 10-year-old daughter, Kendra, has ground her teeth “ever since she first had them!”
“It’s horrible,” says Billings. “I can’t stand to sleep in the same room as her.”
But Billings isn’t the only parent losing sleep over their child’s gnashing pearly whites. Teeth grinding is relatively common among preteens, says paediatrician Michael Dickinson of Miramichi, NB.
People of any age may grind or clench their teeth at night and usually, says Dickinson, “there’s no clear reason why they do it.”
*Name changed by request.
In some cases, though, stress can be a contributing factor, and since the preteen years are a transition stage, it’s not surprising that children may experience heightened stress or anxiety at this age. “It’s a time of physical, social and psychological change,” says Dickinson.
So if your child has recently started grinding, or if your long-standing teeth grinder seems to be doing it a lot more, it’s a good idea to look at her stress levels. “You’d want to know that the child wasn’t being bullied, for example,” suggests Dickinson. Or there may be less dramatic worries — too much homework, changing friendships, anxiety about an upcoming piano exam — that you may not be able to soothe, but you can at least offer support and encouragement.
Making time for a nice, relaxing bedtime routine may also help your preteen unclench. A long, warm shower or bath, quiet conversation with a parent, a gentle back rub, reading books together or listening to soothing music can be ways to let go of all the day’s tension and sleep more peacefully.
Usually, though, you won’t find any particular cause for the grinding, and no amount of relaxation exercises or massage therapy will stop it.
Consult your dentist
There’s no telling, either, whether your child will grow out of the habit or grind his way through life. The next step, says Dickinson, is to consult with your dentist to make sure your child is not causing any damage to his teeth or jaw joint. “A dentist can often offer some therapy to protect the teeth if there is a problem — perhaps a bite plate or other device,” he says.
In Kendra’s case, though, no treatment has been needed so far. “Neither our family dentist nor our orthodontist is concerned about it,” says Billings. “They say it’s nothing to worry about, and there’s no reason to try and stop it unless it’s causing her pain or discomfort.”
It’s not. In fact, it’s not bothering Kendra at all — after all, she’s asleep when it happens. For the rest of the family, though, says Billings, “it’s really annoying.”
“It can be distressing for family members who are kept awake,” acknowledges Dickinson, “but unfortunately it is one of those frustrating problems where often there is no quick and easy fix.”
So if your child is otherwise happy and healthy, and your dentist is unconcerned, your best option may be to buy yourself a fan or other source of white noise — and try not to listen.