Bruxism and Temporomandibular Disorders
The unconscious act of grinding your teeth is called bruxism (say "BRUK-siz-um"). This usually occurs at night during sleep. Bruxism has been observed in people of all ages, including young children. It is a contributing factor in temporomandibular disorders (TMDs).
Like daytime teeth clenching, bruxism is often considered to be stress-related. Sleep disorders are also a cause of bruxism. The negative effects of bruxism include:
- Wearing down of the teeth over time.
- Lingering muscle tension and spasm.
- Undue stress on the jaw (temporomandibular) joint.
- Tiredness of the jaw muscles.
If your child grinds their teeth, don't be too concerned. Bruxism is not necessarily a sign of stress in your child. Pediatric dentists have various theories about what causes bruxism, ranging from some irritating feature in the mouth, such as misaligned teeth, to allergies, to stress. Because a child's teeth and jaw grow and change so quickly, bruxism is common and is not usually a damaging habit in need of treatment.
If bruxism or teeth clenching (which is what you are most likely to observe) is causing you trouble, consider seeking treatment, reducing stress, or at least developing new ways of coping with stress. Exercise is an excellent way for your body to process stress. Relaxation skills and activities can also make a big difference in how stress affects your body and mind. Bruxism related to sleep disorders can be treated with a low dose of antidepressant. Hypnosis, which addresses subconscious behavior, may also be helpful.