On Call: Stop Tooth Grinding

Q. Our son is nearly 3, and we’ve finally weaned him off his pacifier. But now he grinds his teeth in his sleep. How do we get him to stop?

A. Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is surprisingly common in children under 5 and usually happens while they sleep. Although no one knows for sure what causes it, possible culprits include stress, malocclusion (when the top and bottom teeth don’t fit together properly), problems with the temporomandibular joint (the one that connects the top and bottom of the jaw), and simply bad habit.

I wonder if your son is used to a certain way of moving his mouth around the pacifier, so that without it (kudos to you for getting rid of it!), those movements have turned into teeth grinding.

Whatever the cause, bruxism usually doesn’t damage children’s teeth, and the vast majority of kids stop doing it on their own. If your son hasn’t had his chompers checked yet, now would be a good time to make an appointment; if the dentist thinks the grinding could be a problem, he may prescribe a mouth guard. Most likely, though, you won’t need to do a thing.

Since bruxism can be a sign of stress, watch for changes in your son’s behavior, like moodiness, clinginess, changes in appetite, or other sleep problems. If you see any of these symptoms, try to eliminate the triggers  — extra attention and snuggling can help, too. If things don’t improve, talk to your doctor.

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