A 10-month-old baby grinding their teeth is relatively common; in fact, about 14-17% of all infants with two lower teeth and two upper teeth will grind their teeth. This mostly occurs while infants are asleep but is not exclusive to sleep. Bruxism or teeth grinding is a phase that many infants go through, and most will outgrow it. There is usually no harm done to their teeth during this phase, but you should still monitor the situation and see a dentist if you have any concerns.
A teething baby brings on so many mixed emotions for parents.
As parents, we do our best to comfort our little ones, but deep down, we know there is no quick fix, and soldiering on through this phase seems like the only solution.
Teeth grinding comes as a shock to many parents, and helping your little one through this can almost become an obsession. So we delve into this cringy “habit” for answers and to find out what you can do to help your little one.
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Why do infants grind their teeth?
Teething causes discomfort, leading infants to bite or chew on anything to relieve the irritating sensation they’re experiencing.
Biting and chewing does relieve the pain to some degree while awake, but when your little one goes to sleep, teething doesn’t stop. When we fall asleep, the natural tendency of our jaw muscles is to contract, and in children, if the jaw muscle contraction is too intense, it may result in grinding.
This sounds like a plausible reason why teething infants start grinding their teeth, but according to medical and dental professionals, there are several possible reasons for bruxism that bridge teeth grinding from a phase into a habit.
Let’s face it, the sound of grinding teeth is unpleasant, and the repetitive sound of grinding teeth can push your stress level to breaking point. Some parents will even blame themselves, which may inevitably affect the goodness they’re doing as concerned parents.
It’s important to approach teeth grinding with an open mind and seek medical advice before judging your role as a parent.
Yes, teething is a tough time for your little one, and it may include teeth grinding, but there are ways to relieve the strange and sometimes painful process while your little one is awake.
Yet bruxism is more common while your infant is asleep, and you can’t exactly do anything to help then, or can you?
What causes bruxism?
Dentists and medical professionals aren’t exactly sure what causes bruxism, but they do present several possible causes, such as:
- Teeth alignment: If teeth are not properly aligned, it may lead to bruxism.
- Pain control: Grinding teeth is the first and immediate pain relief action.
- Response to pain: Responding to earache, headache, or other pain by grinding teeth may offer the necessary distraction from that pain.
- Stress/anxiety: Stress, tension, anger, and anxiety may cause bruxism in people of all ages. This is oftentimes a response to pressing psychological issues.
- Hereditary: It is possible to pass bruxism to your children through your genes.
- Hyperactive: Hyperactive children will tend to subconsciously grind their teeth but it could also be a reaction to the medication used to control hyperactivity.
- Medical conditions: Conditions like cerebral palsy, sleep apnea, epilepsy, night terrors, and ADHD can bring on bruxism and here again, it can result from medication taken for a number of different conditions.
Bruxism and sleep
Although bruxism is one of the many phases your little one may go through in their early years, it’s still something you anticipate to end.
The sound of grinding teeth can really annoy other family members to the point of absolute frustration. However, most cases of bruxism dissipate without any ill effects.
Bruxism in infants usually occurs during sleep, mostly during the second stage of sleep known as REM sleep.
During REM, your child will not be aware that they are grinding their teeth as it’s an involuntary action, and they will seldom wake up as a result. However, studies indicate disturbed sleep is associated with bruxism, with increased heart rates recorded during grinding sessions.
Specialists are unsure if arousal during sleep is caused by bruxism or if bruxism is triggered by arousal.
Arousal or sleep interruption occurs if you are not relaxed, if you are not comfortable sleeping, if you develop a fever, or if your sleep environment does not promote good healthy sleep.
A well-ventilated sleeping area for your little one is essential. Sleep is essential, and the right sleeping clothes, bedding, and temperature are all things to consider that promote healthy sleep.
The sooner your little one falls into a deep sleep, the less likely they will grind their teeth.
Nigh-time grinding and jaw clenching can wear down tooth enamel or even cause a tooth to chip. This will cause sensitivity to temperature and may cause facial and jaw problems.
However, most children who grind their teeth at night do not develop such problems unless the grinding and clenching are ongoing and severe.
Good sleeping habits to alleviate bruxism
Although you may think that there isn’t much you can do about your little one grinding their teeth during sleep, you should go through a checklist on creating a healthy home and sleep environment.
Here are a few ideas to ensure healthy sleep:
- Create a sleep routine for your little one.
- Avoid co-sleeping with your child. This means do not share the same bed with your little one.
- Outlaw smoking, drugs and excessive alcohol use in your home and around your child.
- You will most likely have a crib or cot for your baby in your room which is fine but keep the room temperature at a moderate setting that does not require additional bedding to stay warm. Likewise, do not set the temperature too high as it will cause overheating and sweating which can be dangerous and will disrupt sleep.
- The right bedding is essential. Don’t buy bedding just because of the nice print. Invest in breathable bedding and pay attention to the type of fabric used. Wool has many benefits that promote healthy sleep and naturally control temperature.
- Make sure your little ones sleeping space is free of clutter or any potential choking hazard.
- Lead up to bedtime with a wind-down period that includes a warm bath and a soft massage. You can then usher your little one to sleep by reading a bedtime story or playing soft bedtime music while you comfort your bundle of joy.
The idea is to promote good healthy sleep by managing your child’s sleep needs. If you hear your little one grinding their teeth during the night, you may want to create a soft distraction that will not wake your little one but offer the comfort and security of knowing that you are there.
Stroking their hair or cheeks or patting them softly on the back or bottom may work for some children.
Trauma is another cause of interrupted sleep. Moving to a new home may have an adverse effect on your child’s sleep pattern, and the experience may trigger bruxism.
Lifestyle is equally as important as creating a healthy sleep environment. A traumatic experience can trigger different coping responses in children.
How long does bruxism last?
For many children who grind their teeth, bruxism typically dissipates at about six years old. However, each child has different reasons for grinding their teeth, and parents need to try and understand the cause to help their child.
Are boys more likely to develop bruxism?
No, both boys and girls grind their teeth. Studies on gender and teeth grinding show conflicting results, and there is no reason to believe that boys are more prone to bruxism than girls.
Is there a device available to monitor sleep bruxism?
Yes, there is a device called “Bitestrip” that detects sleep bruxism. It measures jaw muscle activity during sleep; however, the device is mostly used for adults and monitors severe cases.
Infants grinding their teeth can be caused by several reasons beyond the irritation that comes with teething. Sleep bruxism is pretty common in young children and should be monitored and addressed as early as possible to avoid later complications.
A healthy sleep environment plus good teeth hygiene and frequent visits to a dentist will help identify and treat bruxism early.
In most cases, bruxism will be nothing more than a passing phase. Yet, it can also be a warning sign that your child has problems coping with psychological issues like undue stress or being unable to process what is a traumatic experience.
If you notice your little one has started grinding their teeth and progressively getting worse, then a visit to your dentist and possibly your pediatrician may shed light on the cause. Either way, it’s best to monitor bruxism and assure your little one that you are there for them.