Child's tooth-grinding puts parents on edge


August 11, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My 4-year-old son grinds his teeth at night. Why does he do this, and should we try to stop it?

-- Vimala Ravi, San Jose, Calif.

The tooth grinding and jaw problems that can cause serious trouble for adults have led to misconceptions when it comes to young children. As many parents have found after rushing kids to the dentist, this nightly gnashing will not hurt the primary teeth.

"I had the same problem with my 3 1/2 -year-old to the point where he ground his teeth so loudly that you could hear it reverberating through the house," says Mari Machado of San Francisco, Calif.

"I took him to my dentist and was much relieved to find that this is a normal occurrence in many children," Machado says. "I suggest taking your own son to the dentist to make sure there are no medical problems."

A dental screening is a good idea, even if it serves no other purpose than to reassure the parent, says Dr. Dennis McTigue, who teaches pediatric dentistry at Ohio State University College of Dentistry in Columbus.

"Tooth grinding is very common with preschoolers, but we seldom if ever see a problem resulting from it," McTigue says. "It may eventually wear down the baby teeth a little, but even that's not a problem at all."

The tooth grinding typically disappears, almost as if by magic, as soon as the permanent teeth come in.

"The molars anchor the jaw and it's harder to do," McTigue says.

In some cases tooth grinding does continue once the permanent molars are in place, as it did for one Child Life reader.

"I was a night grinder starting at around age 5," says Cindy Mills of Mesa, Ariz. "At age 30, my headaches were determined to be caused by temporoman- dibular joint disorder (TMJ), and I was treated."

If grinding does continue past the baby-teeth stage, parents should consult a dentist or family health care provider.

Generations of parental lore attribute tooth grinding to everything from pin worms to stress to dental problems.

"It is very unusual for tooth grinding to be related to anything else," says Laura Nathanson, author of "The Portable Pediatrician's Guide to Kids" (HarperPerennial, $20 U.S., $28 Canada).

"There are no emotional problems, no repressed anger," says Nathanson, a pediatrician in private practice in San Diego, Calif. "Once in a blue moon, it can indicate allergies, but these are perfectly happy kids who happen to make a lot of noise when they sleep."

One parent found help for her tooth-grinding daughter from a nutritionist.

"The nutritionist told me to give her extra calcium," says Rivka Dushoff of San Jose, Calif. "The pediatrician thought it was silly, but it did work. The grinding went away."

The real cause of tooth-grinding still baffles the medical profession.

"There's not a lot of scientific research to explain why some kids do this," McTigue, the dentistry professor, says. "But since it's not a problem, it makes no difference why."

There is a simple treatment McTigue and Nathanson both prescribe -- for the parents.

"I recommend wearing ear plugs," Nathanson says. "It can be an agonizing sound."

Can you help?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to

* Won't potty train: "What can you do about a 4-year-old girl who refuses to use the potty?" asks Sharon Davis of Duncan, British ** Columbia. "She will hold her urine all day if need be. We have tried every kind of potty, and I have sat with her for an hour at a time. I have tried bribing her with treats or surprises. Is there some way to get her to use the toilet without putting her in a distressed state?"

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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