Baby teeth grinding: what you need to know

Posted in Teething Advice, Toddler Teething.

baby with fingers in mouth

Gurgles, squeals and laughter. All those lovely new sounds that a baby can bring to your home. Then there’s some of the not so nice sounds, like baby teeth grinding, which is akin to the sound of nails down a blackboard.

As a parent, if you’ve heard it, you’ve probably found yourself wondering if this newfound trick is something that bothers your bub as much as it does you. Before you set your own teeth on edge, read on to learn everything you need to know about teeth grinding in babies.

What is teeth grinding?

Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is exactly what it sounds like, the regular grinding together or clenching of the teeth.

Babies or young children may grind or clench their teeth during the day, or when they’re asleep at night. Sometimes it can be a conscious activity, for example, your bub is teething and they’ve just discovered they can make a funny sound with their new chompers. Other times it may be a completely subconscious response to other stimuli.

Symptoms in babies can include grinding of the teeth or clenching of the jaw and an audible sound of the teeth grating together (which often sounds a lot worse than it is!). If the problem progresses into early childhood, you may notice tooth damage, and your little one may start to complain of having a sore jaw or ears, and a headache.

Why does my baby grind his or her teeth?

baby crying with fingers in mouth

The short answer is no one is really sure, but it’s fairly common, with experts estimating around 3 in 10 children will grind or clench their teeth. In the early days, it’s most likely a response to the pain of teething, or other conditions such as sinus or ear infections. It can even be as simple as a reaction to actually having teeth for the first time – we all know how much little ones like to test out anything new! Misaligned teeth could also be a potential culprit.

As they get older, more severe or constant grinding can be a sign of another underlying condition like cerebral palsy, hyperactivity or ADHD, or a response to certain medications, emotional stress or anxiety. If your baby has already been diagnosed with any of these conditions it’s definitely worthwhile being a bit more vigilant in monitoring any grinding or clenching behaviours.

Another possible cause can be breathing issues during sleep. If you’ve noticed any snoring or difficulty breathing overnight in your child, with or without bruxism, you should see your doctor or paediatrician to rule out any potential issues with tonsils, adenoids or sinuses.

Infants and young children can’t tell you what the issue is so it can be quite tricky to pin down the exact cause of their tooth grinding.

Is teeth grinding a problem for baby?

The good news is, usually no, and most children will outgrow bruxism when they lose their baby teeth. If bruxism is a short-term issue for your baby, then you really don’t need to worry. However, if the habit becomes prolonged, you may find that excessive grinding or clenching can lead to other issues such as long-term wear and damage to teeth, and temporomandibular joint disease (TMD).

If you’re concerned that teeth grinding is becoming an issue for your child, it’s always best to consult your doctor or dentist.

Treatment for babies

Best Teething Toy: Ethan the Fox

In the first year, if you notice your little one grinding their teeth during the day, treat it like you would teething and offer them something good to munch on. Teething toys, like everything else, are available in lots of different forms, so it might be worthwhile trying a few different ones to see which one your bub takes to best.

There’s natural rubber, wood and silicone options or, if your baby seems like they’re showing signs of discomfort, you could also try an ice teether that you keep in the freezer. Even just something as simple as a frozen, clean face washer can work absolute wonders on sore little gums.

If you’re concerned that night grinding may be a stress response, focus on creating a relaxing bedtime routine. You could include some soft music, baby massage or even try a diffuser with essential oils. This kind of routine never really goes astray with babies and toddlers anyway so it’s always worth giving a go!

Treatments for older children

For older babies and children, your dentist may recommend a customised mouthguard to prevent any lasting tooth damage but this really isn’t something you need to stress about at this early stage. For the most part, even babies who grind into their childhood years will have mostly given up the habit by the time they are teenagers.

The takeaway from all of this is that bruxism in babies is something that is going to be of far more concern to you than your little one. Like many things in infancy, it’s great to be aware of but try not to stress too much. Most likely the sound it makes is going to be the worst part and you might just have to grin and bear it until your bub finds something else to keep you guessing.

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