Have you heard a strange clenching noise coming from your son or daughter’s bedroom at night? Chances are, they’re grinding their teeth at night — which sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. Pediatric tooth-grinding (aka bruxism) is actually a pretty common occurrence among kids below the age of seven.
Years ago, doctors and dentists frequently misdiagnosed the cause of pediatric bruxism. They wrote it off as stress-induced purely because that’s a common cause in adult cases of bruxism. Anxiety can lead to teeth grinding in people who have things to be anxious about. Chances are, your five year old probably isn’t grinding their teeth at night because of a looming deadline at work.
So, how can you tell what’s causing your child’s teeth grinding? Little ones grind or clench their teeth predominantly because:
If you suspect your child may have chronic ear infections, take them to the pediatrician right away. Untreated ear infections can cause serious problems.
If your child doesn’t have an ear infection, a trip to the dentist may be in order. Your dentist can tell if the grinding is coming from painful erupting teeth or from misalignment issues. Many dentists will tell you that your child will grow out of bruxism in a few years which is true — partially. When misalignment causes bruxism, there are frequently pediatric sleep apnea problems as well.
We know what you’re thinking: “sleep apnea…in kids?” It’s actually a lot more common than people think. Because children’s jaws, mouths, and necks haven’t finished developing, it’s easy for their airways to become blocked by soft tissues while sleeping. In a lot of cases, severe misalignment of kids’ developing teeth causes their jaws to develop poorly as well, which leads to airway issues.
Why should you care if your child has an airway issue? Even if your dentist says your child will grow out of their blocked airway, there are a host of problems that can appear as symptoms including:
Pediatric airway issues can cause lifelong problems that traditional orthodontics can’t always fix. This is why an orthodontist created the orthodontic/orthopedic device known as HealthyStart. Over the course of around five to six years, the overnight retainer helps gently guide the developing teeth and jaw into the right position to ensure a straight smile and healthy breathing. Children only have to wear the soft plastic retainer at night so it’s significantly less invasive than traditional braces. It’s also half as expensive as traditional ortho.
The best way to see if HealthyStart is right for your child is to bring them in for a consultation at a HealthyStart provider. A doctor will take a look at your child’s mouth, ask about their habits, and explain the HealthyStart process. The device works best if you start early so kids older than eight or nine probably won’t see much success. This is why we encourage parents to bring their kids to the dentist as early as possible so the doctor can check for any abnormalities before they become a bigger problem later on.