With the prevalence of social media and the pressure on children to grow up more quickly these days, it’s never been harder to be a child. Now a recent study has found that children who grind their teeth could be being bullied. Apparently, teeth grinding is a sign that parents should be aware of and which could help draw attention to the fact their child is being bullied.
Adolescents who suffer from bullying are more likely to grind their teeth in their sleep. The research found that they went nearly 4 times as likely to suffer from sleep bruxism or tooth grinding and clenching. This was compared to children who were not being bullied. Bruxism is a largely nocturnal sleep disorder where sufferers grind or clench their teeth while sleeping and this can create substantial oral health problems.
The human jaw is capable of exerting a great deal of pressure which over time can wear down teeth or which may lead to them becoming chipped and cracked. Often people with bruxism will have oral pain. It can spread to their face and even down into the neck and shoulders. It’s not unusual for people with bruxism to have migraines. Without the correct treatment, bruxism can cause irreparable damage to the teeth and even to the jaws.
It might seem strange to link bruxism to bullying. In fact, bruxism is often associated with stress and bullying could be a significant contributor to a child’s stress levels.
Your Child Doesn’t Have to Be Bullied to Have Bruxism
While it’s possible your child may be grinding their teeth because they are being bullied, this isn’t always the case. Bruxism is actually quite common amongst children, particularly those under the age of 11. In fact, it’s so common that pediatric dentists may only treat this condition when it causes severe tooth wear or pain, or when a child has trouble sleeping.
It’s a para-functional activity meaning it’s outside of normal activity. Children are often susceptible to these kinds of habits that are frequently subconscious. Other common childhood habits include nailbiting, finger or thumb sucking, and cheek biting. When a child becomes aware of their habits, they can often be stopped or their behavior can be modified.
It’s a little trickier when a child has bruxism because it occurs during sleep.
When Do Children Develop Bruxism and Which Factors Place Them More at Risk?
In a healthy child, sleep bruxism can begin as early as age 1, soon after they get their front teeth. At this age, it’s possible teeth grinding is due to the immaturity of the muscles controlling chewing. It’s thought likely that bruxism occurs at the point when sleep changes from deep REM sleep to non-REM sleep. It’s been found that in young adults more than 80% of bruxism episodes occur during non-REM sleep while just 5 to 10% occur during deep sleep.
In children, bruxism tends to be more frequent in those who breathe through their mouth or who snore. It’s thought there may be a connection between obstructive sleep apnea and bruxism. Obstructive sleep apnea is where the airway becomes partially or completely blocked due to the tongue and muscles at the back of the throat relaxing. This allows the tongue to fall backward, blocking the airway.
Sleep apnea can be dangerous because sufferers often partially awake many times each night. This prevents restful sleep which affects a child’s growth and development. There is also a possibility that bruxism is linked to enlarged tonsils which in turn may obstruct the upper airway. Sometimes removing the tonsils or adenoids in children has helped to reduce teeth grinding. Yet another possible factor is asthma and infections affecting the respiratory system.
Prescription drugs such as antidepressants and drugs for ADHD can possibly contribute towards teeth grinding habits. The number of children being prescribed these drugs is growing. Bruxism in older teens can sometimes be associated with smoking and drinking alcohol and to illicit drug use.
Treating and Preventing Bruxism
In many cases, children will outgrow bruxism and often treatment may not be recommended by a pediatric dentist. However, if there are signs of tooth wear or other indications that bruxism is causing potentially long-term damage to their dental health, a dentist may suggest treatment. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if tooth wear is due to a current bruxism habit because teeth grinding habits can vary over time.
Another possible factor in teeth grinding might be diet. As consumption of sugary sodas has increased, this has contributed to enamel erosion. Additionally, fruit juices and sports drinks are often very high in sugars and may also be acidic. Your child’s pediatric dentist might suggest analyzing their diet to see if any foods could be causing tooth wear. If this is likely, they can suggest ways to improve your child’s diet to help preserve their teeth.
If your child does have bruxism, your dentist will want some information about other symptoms associated with this problem. These symptoms may include headaches, especially waking up with a bad headache, jaw pain or an earache. If your kid’s pediatric dentist feels their teeth grinding needs treatment, they may suggest a custom-made thin plastic night guard. Made from a tough thermoplastic material, a night guard or night splint usually fits over the upper teeth.
This is so that when your child tries to clench or grind, their lower teeth glide harmlessly against the plastic. While this approach may be suitable for children who have their adult teeth, it may not be appropriate if your child still has their baby teeth. If there is a possibility of bruxism being due to an obstructed airway, your pediatric dentist may refer your child to an ear nose and throat specialist.
Where prescription drugs may be causing the problem, it could be worth taking your child to see their pediatrician. They may be able to prescribe a different medication or they might adjust the dosage. It’s always vital to talk to their pediatrician first before discontinuing any drugs or adjusting the dose yourself. For many children teeth grinding will be a harmless habit that they will simply outgrow, however horrible it may sound to parents.
However, it’s always worth getting expert advice to determine the cause and to discover if treatment is required.