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The Nightly Grind: Don’t Lose Sleep Over Nighttime Teeth Grinding

By Malia Jacobson

Deep, even breathing, blankets softly rustling, the occasional sigh; the sweet sounds of children asleep are music to a weary parent’s ears.

preschooler’s bedroom one night, I heard her peaceful sleep sounds shattered by the bone-rattling, fingernails-on-a- blackboard racket of her tiny teeth, gnashing away. I lapsed into a moment of parental panic. Surely, this


would damage her teeth! Did she do this every night? Was she overstressed? Should I wake her? The grinding noises tapered off after a few minutes, but

my questions continued. Many parents will hear their children’s teeth grinding at

some point; a study in Journal of Dentistry for Children found that more than a third of parents report the condition in their children. “It can get pretty loud,” admits Paul Bussman, DMD, FAGD, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. Though teeth grinding, or bruxism, may be alarming

or worrisome, “it’s generally a normal part of the growing process,” he says. Grinding can begin in babyhood, and generally starts

to subside as the permanent teeth begin to erupt, says Bussman. The condition commonly disappears on its own in childhood, but a small percentage of kids will continue to grind as adults. Severe or persistent grinders may suffer facial pain, earaches, jaw joint disorders, damaged teeth, and disturbed sleep. According to Dr. Khaleel Ahmad of the

Iowa Sleep Disorders Center, researchers haven’t pinned down a cause for bruxism. Genetics may play a role; if either parents grinds their teeth at night, children are 1.8 times more likely to grind their own. Daytime stress and medicines like

amphetamines have been associated with bruxism. Interestingly, nearly a third of

ntil the serenity is pierced by the unmistakable noise of grinding teeth. When I tiptoed past my slumbering

grinders also bite their nails, and over 20 percent suck their thumbs, says Dr. Ahmed. If your child’s teeth have become nighttime noisemakers, here are some tips for coping:

Do Not Disturb “Don’t wake a child engaged in nighttime teeth

grinding,” says Bussman. “They’re not aware of it, so bringing it to their attention will probably confuse them.”

Stress Less Grinding can be associated with daytime stress, so help

kids relax. Ask them to talk about any stressful events they may have encountered during their day, and encourage them to unwind in the hours before bedtime with a bath, books, and quiet activities.

Practice Healthy Habits Help your child maintain good sleep habits, with an age-

appropriate bedtime, a regular bedtime routine, and a cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable sleep environment.

Back Off Bruxism occurs more commonly during

back sleeping. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends back sleeping for infants, but older children who grind may be more comfortable sleeping in another position.

Get a Move On Encourage kids to get adequate exercise.

Physical activity helps kids fall asleep faster, promotes deep, restful sleep, and eases stress, which can contribute to teeth grinding.

4 • BIG BOOK OF FAMILY HEALTH 2011 • Your Local Guide to Your Family’s Well-Being

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