Many parents are not aware that their babies grind their teeth during sleep.
That’s because it is hard to spot.
Except for the clicking and grinding you may have heard by chance. And hearing that can really distress a parent.
Sometimes they may become aware of it much later – during their first dental appointment. Which, of course, it may come as a huge surprise!
So, if your tot experiences teeth grinding, perhaps you may want to know what caused it.
Read on to find the 10 most common reasons why babies grind their teeth during sleep.
Why do babies grind their teeth while sleeping?
There are a variety of reasons why babies might be grinding their teeth. For most of them, teeth clenching is a coping strategy when they are anxious, frustrated, or in pain. Typically, the pain may be related to dental issues – such as teeth misalignment or biting disorder. Often, the pain may result from an ear infection, teething or headache. Anxiety may be related to night terrors, separation anxiety, experienced trauma, or a significant life event. For others, calcium and vitamin D deficiency may contribute to teeth grinding as well as sleep and medical disorders such as sleep apnea, epilepsy, or ADHD. Finally, babies can inherit this habit from their parents if bruxism runs in the family.
What is teeth grinding?
Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, is a common medical and dental issue among babies and toddlers.
It is an involuntary habit that usually occurs during sleep.
So, babies rub their teeth together and clench their jaws without being aware.
It usually starts after the first teeth come through, around the 7-month mark.
It is a mild condition that doesn’t require treatment. Hence, there is no reason to be concerned, and luckily, kids will outgrow it in their teens. Phew.
Nevertheless, the consequences of bruxism may be very unpleasant. Babies may experience pain in the jaws, earache, headache, and in more severe cases – worn teeth.
Rarely, excessive bruxism can lead to the development of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
TMJ is a condition that causes pain and limits the range of motion in joints which most likely will require medical treatment.
1. Response to Teething And Dental Problems
Has your baby started teething already?
If so, it is likely the reason for teeth grinding.
This is because your baby will instinctively try to ease the discomfort caused by the teeth breaking through.
Additionally, since the teeth erupt in no particular order, it may lead to biting problems. These include overbite, underbite, open bite, and crossbite.
This means there is no contact between the teeth on the upper jaw and the corresponding teeth in the bottom jaw.
In other words, it causes teeth misalignment, called malocclusion.
The teeth misalignment often brings even more pain to your baby. If the case is severe, it may lead to problems eating and speaking or cause abnormal baby teeth loss.
Thankfully there are many ways to ease your little one’s discomfort related to teething.
Top 5 Methods to Help Soothe a Teething Infant
2. Response to Pain
Except for the discomfort caused by teething, there are other sources of pain that babies often experience in their early days. This results in the teeth grinding to manage and relieve the pain.
Now, your baby may have an achy feeling because of an infection, particularly an ear infection or any other form of irritation to the inner ear.
Other reasons for the pain include vaccinations, injury, or trauma.
If that is indeed the case, then the baby may have been agitated, fidgety, and unable to settle down. Therefore, teeth grinding will be the least of your worries!
3. Reaction to Stress or Anxiety
Bruxism is also not an uncommon response to stress and anxiety in babies. It’s because babies have so much going on with their rapid growth and development. And their constantly changing bodies may make them feel vulnerable.
But that’s not it!
Babies may not take lightly any major life events. Among such events may be the transition to a nursery or a day-care, parents returning to work, and being separated from them (causing separation anxiety).
Night terrors can also be a source of distress, although it isn’t as common in babies as they are in toddlers.
Furthermore, a family disruption like divorce or being around parents who are worried, ill, or upset– will contribute to their own anxiety.
So, involuntary teeth grinding during sleep will be one of the mechanisms they will use to cope with their anxiety.
4. Frustration Or Tension
It is a very normal part of a baby’s development to get angry and frustrated when things are not as they would have wanted.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon for them to throw temper tantrums.
After all, being a baby is a hard job. Especially when they still cannot effectively communicate their feelings and needs – as they are yet to learn to talk.
Babies at this age have still very little control over their environment. They may struggle to figure out how the new toy works. Or perhaps, they aren’t allowed to get what they want – like a shiny mobile phone.
Therefore, if your baby experiences frustration or tension, it may be an attempt to deal with these emotions through subconscious teeth grinding.
5. Calcium, Magnesium, And Vitamin D Deficiency
Bruxism may indicate calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D deficiency.
According to a recent study, there is a strong correlation between bruxism and low level of vitamin D and thus low calcium intake. That’s because calcium cannot be efficiently absorbed by the human body without vitamin D.
So, without calcium, the muscles in the body cannot relax, which may lead to jaw clenching.
Another crucial factor is to keep a healthy balance of magnesium, which keeps the central nervous system in check. Therefore, affects the response to stress – such as teeth grinding.
Related post =======> Why Do Babies Need Vitamin D Supplement?
There is strong evidence to suggest that bruxism can be passed down through the family.
Although it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you or your partner have bruxism, your baby will automatically have it too.
There are other factors that affect the chances of developing bruxism. These factors include increased hormone levels or stress and anxiety.
Nevertheless, between 20 and 50% of babies will inherit the disorder from a family member. So, the chances are rather high.
7. Sleep Disorders such as Sleep Apnea
Research shows that there is a correlation between sleep-related bruxism and sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a severe breathing condition occurring during sleep.
Basically, a baby pauses breathing, which causes a drop of oxygen in the body. This happens because the airway is obstructed by the structure of their mouth, jaws or throat. So, due to breathing problems during sleep, babies cannot enter a deep sleep, which decreases the quality of their sleep.
The consequences of poor sleep can be very damaging to their overall health and well-being and to their mood, behaviour, and ability to learn.
Except for teeth grinding, babies suffering from sleep apnea may snore during sleep, breathe through the mouth, be restless during sleep, and breathe while sleeping.
Therefore, if you suspect your child has this condition, you should consult a paediatrician and seek treatment.
8. Other Medical Issues
Few other medical conditions are closely linked to teeth grinding in babies.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that periodically affects brain activity and causes a seizure.
Basically, if a baby experiences at least two seizures of unknown nature, they are diagnosed as epileptic.
Epilepsy is one of the most common conditions of the nervous system. It can be triggered by several things, including brain damage or injury, brain tumour, or an imbalance of neurotransmitters.
During the episode of seizure, teeth grinding is a common occurrence.
But not only then.
Generally, babies with epilepsy also suffer from sleep bruxism. In that case, they will need to be treated with custom-fitted mouthguards to avoid painful side effects.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood condition that sometimes continues until adulthood.
Kids with ADHD are often affected by sleep disorders, and bruxism is one of them.
Usually, each episode of involuntary teeth grinding occurs alongside stress or hyperactivity.
Now, the knowledge about ADHD is still limited, and the condition is often misdiagnosed with other health problems that have similar symptoms.
Among the primary indicators of ADHD are difficulty concentrating, distraction, impulsivity, short attention span, fidgeting, being constantly “on the move”, not following instructions, and poor memory.
Given the type and nature of these symptoms, ADHD can be tricky to diagnose in children younger than 4 years old.
Nevertheless, more and more toddlers get diagnosed and treated with ADHD, even as young as 2 years old. The medical community disagrees on whether diagnosing and treating toddlers is appropriate.
Anyhow, if you suspect your baby may have ADHD, it is worth checking this up with a specialist.
9. Side Effects of Medication
Teeth grinding can also be caused by certain medications.
Particularly stimulant drugs that are used to treat ADHD. These drugs act on the central nervous system. As a result, they interfere with sleep and eventually lead to bruxism.
Also, any other psychotropic drug used to treat any behaviour, mood, or perception issues is linked to bruxism.
10. No Reason – Just Exploring New Territories
Well, actually, it may not always be obvious why babies grind their teeth.
It may be for no particular reason or just exploring what their jaws can do!
Final Few Lines
Sleep-related teeth grinding is a common issue affecting people of all ages – including babies.
Among the most common reasons for teeth grinding in babies are:
- Teething and dental disorders,
- Stress and anxiety,
- Vitamin D and calcium deficiency,
- Medical disorders, such as sleep apnoea, ADHD, epilepsy and
- Some medication,
- The condition can also be inherited from a family member.
Bruxism should naturally resolve itself with time. So, there is no need to be worried too much.
However, if you have any concerns, you should consult a paediatric dentist for advice if treatment is required.