How to Stop Kids from Grinding Their Teeth

Learn what you can do to stop kids from grinding their teeth

If your child has woken up with a painful jaw, or a headache after a good night’s sleep, there may be a chance they are experiencing teeth grinding (bruxism). Teeth grinding can be a painful condition, and one that definitely deserves your attention. But how can you be sure that your child is dealing with bruxism, and what are some of the things you can do to help alleviate it?

In this Aspen Dental guide, we’re going cover tips to help stop kids from grinding their teeth including:

  • What bruxism is and what causes it
  • How to know if your child is grinding their teeth, and if it’s common
  • Problems that can develop as a result of teeth grinding
  • How to prevent kids from grinding their teeth
  • Treatment options available for children who are dealing with bruxism

What is teeth grinding (bruxism), and what causes it?

What exactly is bruxism and why does it develop in children?

dentist smiling with young patient
Teeth grinding or bruxism is fairly common in children. Many children experience it while they are teething, or are getting their permanent adult teeth. 

Bruxism is also known as teeth grinding, and is a condition that can be experienced by both children and adults where the teeth grind against each other. In addition to grinding, you can also experience clenching, tapping or gnashing of your teeth, which can leave you with a sore jaw, an earache or a headache. There are two kinds of bruxism:

  • Awake bruxism. This occurs when you unconsciously clench your teeth or grind them while you're awake, and is sometimes due to anxiety, stress, tension, or frustration. Some people even grind their teeth while they are concentrating on something and do not even realize they’re doing it.
  • Sleep bruxism. This type of teeth grinding occurs while you’re asleep, and is also an unconscious movement. While doctors are not entirely sure what can cause sleep bruxism, they believe it is linked to physical, psychological, and genetic factors.

While sleep bruxism is typically associated with other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea in adults, in children is usually a sign of:

  • Tooth misalignment
  • Pain
  • Relief for anxiety or stress
  • Hyperactivity
  • Reaction to medication

Many children experience bruxism in their youth, but typically outgrow it before they reach their teenage years. Bruxism can be painful, so if your child seems to consistently wake up and complain about pain in their face, jaw or neck, this is something to consider

How do you know if your child grinds their teeth?

What are some of the signs and symptoms of teeth grinding in kids?

young girl smiling while sitting with parent at dentist office
Sometimes it’s obvious that your child is grinding their teeth because you can hear it. Other times, the only noticeable symptom is their sore jaw or facial muscles when they wake up. 

If you’re concerned that your child may have bruxism, it may be a little more difficult than just asking them. Because teeth grinding is done at night, they probably aren’t even aware they’re doing it. Sleep bruxism is an unconscious movement of their jaws, leaving them with pain or sensitivity the next day. In order to determine whether or not your child is dealing with bruxism you can try:

  • Checking on them at night. One of the most direct ways you can try to determine if your child has bruxism is to check on them periodically during the night. If they’ve been waking up with jaw pain, consider peeking your head in or sitting with them for a while as they sleep. If you observe any grinding noises or gnashing of the teeth, you’ll then have your answer.

However, if they’re clenching their jaw at night, this may be a little more difficult to observe first hand. If you’ve checked on them periodically and don’t observe any of the tell-tale noises of bruxism, try to get a closer look. If their jaw appears to be clenched while they sleep, or if you observe their facial expressions similar to clenching, that might be the cause of the problem.

  • Ask any siblings who sleep in the same room to observe. Alternatively, if there are siblings that share the room with your child, you can ask them to listen for the sounds of grinding or gnashing during the night.

Sometimes the sounds of bruxism are loud and can even wake someone up at night. Other times they’re very quiet, and can only be observed within close proximity. Regardless, you’ll want to make sure either you or their sibling listen for a few nights, as bruxism is something that doesn’t necessarily happen each night.

  • Ask them if something is bothering them. As we’ve mentioned earlier, both children and adults can experience bruxism as a result of an underlying issue. You can ask your child if something is bothering them that could be causing them to grind their teeth at night. They may be worried or anxious about something, and talking about it could be the best way to start to relieve their sleep bruxism.

If there is something in particular that has been bothering them, you may want to start trying some different techniques (more on that later) that may help start to alleviate some of the anxiety or fear they’re experiencing before bed. Once the root cause of the bruxism has been addressed, it may subside on its own. 

When to seek out a professional

If you’ve determined that your child has been experiencing bruxism and attempting to get at the root cause of it hasn’t worked out, it may be time to speak to your dental professional. If your child is continuing to experience jaw soreness, headaches, earaches or pains in their neck area even after you’ve addressed the underlying issue, a dentist may be able to help. 

Your dentist can determine if the teeth grinding is the result of misaligned teeth, instead of anxiety or stress. If that is the case, they’ll then be able to help lay out a customized treatment plan to help reduce and eventually eliminate the bruxism. 

Is it normal for kids to grind their teeth?

Do most children go through a teeth grinding phase?

female dentist holding young patient on her lap
Teeth grinding can be experienced by very young children as a result of teething, but it can happen to older children as well.  

Although many children tend to experience bruxism, they typically outgrow it. This is due to the fact that the age of your child may also have something to do with whether or not they’re experiencing bruxism. If your child is teething, this might explain why they’re grinding their teeth. As children lose their baby teeth and their adult teeth start to come in, they may start to grind or gnash as those new teeth start to come in.

Remember, this is a new sensation for them, and grinding could just be their way of checking out these new teeth, and possibly a way they can deal with mild discomfort. If it’s a response to the pain of new teeth coming in, bruxism should subside once the teeth have completely come in. 

If your child is older and is not teething, but is still experiencing bruxism, it could be the result of certain medications like those used to treat ADHD. Sleep bruxism can also be more common in children that are experiencing other nighttime disturbances such as night terrors, sleep apnea or epilepsy. If your child is on any medication, it might be a good idea to contact their doctor to discuss that bruxism might be a symptom of some of the medication prescribed to them. 

For most children who experience bruxism, they typically outgrow it by the time they reach their teenage years. If there is a deeper issue causing the bruxism, it’s always best to ask your child what is going on, and try to develop a way to get at the underlying issue to help stop the bruxism. 

Problems that develop from teeth grinding

What types of issues are the result of teeth grinding?

young female dentist smiling at patient who is holding a mirror and looking at his teeth
If bruxism goes unchecked, it can lead to some serious dental issues with teeth and gums. 

While teeth grinding typically happens to children they usually outgrow it, or the underlying issue is addressed. If the bruxism does not stop, it can cause some issues for their teeth in the future. 


One of the most obvious signs that something isn’t right is your child will wake up with pain or soreness. Bruxism can cause pain in the face, jaw, head, neck or ear area because of all the pressure placed on the jaw and teeth throughout the night from grinding or clenching. If this pain seems to be on a continuous basis, there may be something else that’s bothering them and causing stress or anxiety. Bruxism in this case could be the result of an underlying issue. 


In addition to pain, ongoing bruxism can cause your child’s teeth to become increasingly sensitive. You may start to notice that they’re more sensitive to either hot or cold food while they’re experiencing bruxism. This is a sign that you should make an appointment with your dentist. 

The dentist can determine if the teeth sensitivity is due to bruxism, or if there is another reason that your child has developed a sensitivity to hot or colder foods. 

aspen dental diagram saying a smile goes a long way

Wear on the enamel

Increased sensitivity can also be the result of the wear and tear that bruxism places on the enamel of the teeth. Tooth enamel is very strong, however if the teeth are grinding or gnashing against each other at night, it can eventually cause the enamel to wear away. Once the enamel is weakened, your child may be more likely to experience sensitivity and pain from bruxism.

Chipped teeth

One of the most severe problems that can develop from kids grinding their teeth is the possibility of a chipped tooth. Not only can teeth chip due to the constant grinding, but they can also start to flatten, crack, or fracture. These are all serious issues that can develop as a result of continuous bruxism.

illustration showing teeth grinding, clenching, tapping
Bruxism can refer to grinding, clenching, gnashing or even tapping of the teeth. All forms of bruxism can cause problems if not treated.

Tooth movement

In addition to chipped or cracked teeth, teeth grinding can also cause the teeth to become loosened or mobile. The pressure placed on the teeth during grinding or clenching wear on the enamel of the tooth, making it more sensitive and possibly causing unwanted movement. 

Ulcers on the cheeks

If your child is grinding or clenching, not only can they experience pain in their jaw, head, or neck, but they may also start to get ulcers or sores on the inside of their cheeks. These sores can be very painful, and are the result of pressure or biting on the inside of the mouth. 


Generally, bruxism can lead to inflammation throughout the gums and the lower jaw because of the amount of time the teeth spend clenched or grinding against one another. Inflammation can be painful, and can make the teeth very sensitive.


If your child’s bruxism isn’t addressed, it can lead to symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) such as temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ). These symptoms can include:

  • Pain in the jaw
  • Difficulty opening the jaw
  • Experiencing a clicking sound when the jaw opens or closes
  • Pain or difficulty chewing
  • Aching pain around the ear

Although children typically outgrow their bruxism phase, if it appears to be a consistent problem, you’ll need to speak to your dentist. Bruxism can be alleviated with the right methods and treatment options. 

Can bruxism damage teeth?

Yes, if it goes unchecked, bruxism can definitely damage teeth. Teeth can start to flatten, gums can recede, and teeth can even be chipped as a result of bruxism. This is why it’s so crucial that you monitor your child’s bruxism. If it appears to be worsening, or consistently happens throughout the week, there could be something more going on. If your child is teething or getting their adult teeth in, the bruxism should eventually stop once those processes end. However, if your child’s bruxism is due to stress or anxiety, you’ll need to address those issues first. 

No one wants to see their child in pain, so if they continue to wake up with sore jaws, or you start to notice an increased sensitivity to foods or drinks, it may be time to take them to the dentist. You want to avoid the problems that can develop from continual bruxism, such as chipped teeth, increased tooth mobility, and the loss of enamel. The important thing is that you intervene and stop bruxism before it gets this severe. 

Ways to prevent kids from grinding their teeth

What are the best ways to help kids stop grinding their teeth?

effects of grinding teeth and healthy teeth comparison illustration
Although bruxism may happen to your child, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to lessen the pain. While most cases of bruxism go away on their own, sometimes you’ll need to address the underlying cause first.

If you’re concerned that your child is experiencing bruxism, there are some ways to help prevent them from continuing to grind (and potentially damage) their teeth. As we’ve said before, most kids eventually stop grinding their teeth, but employing any of these methods to help prevent it is a good place to start.

Teething toy

If you have a baby or a toddler getting used to their teeth coming in, it may be helpful to give them a teething toy to alleviate some of the discomfort they’re feeling. When children chew on a teething toy, the counterpressure it offers helps to get rid of some of the soreness that can occur with a new tooth. This can be as simple as a cool, moistened washcloth, or as elaborate as a plastic, frozen teething toy made especially for this kind of issue. 

De-stressing exercises

Even though you might not think it, children can get stressed and have anxiety just like adults. If this appears to be the underlying cause behind their bruxism, then you’ll definitely want to get to the source of what’s causing these feelings in the first place. After discussing what might be the cause of the stress, it may also be helpful to engage in some de-stressing exercises before bed. 

This can include some light massage or stretching of the jaw and facial muscles. Making it a point to do this nightly might help alleviate the feelings of stress or anxiety, and eventually cease the need for bruxism.

Reading a book

Another great wind down for the end of the day is to spend time reading to your child. This can help them relax, and know that it is time to prepare for bed. Reading a book of their choice is not only a great way to spend quality time with them, it can help them to doze off to sleep in a more relaxed and comfortable state. This will hopefully stop the bruxism.

Warm bath

One of the best ways to calm down is with a nightly warm bath. If you think your child may be dealing with bruxism due to stress and anxiety, consider suggesting they take a warm bath or shower before bed. This is a great way to signal to the body that it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep. You can even include some relaxing scents such as lavender or rose to the bath to help de-stress and promote feelings of safety and security. 

Plenty of water

Many children are under-hydrated, so make sure that your child is getting the right amount of water each day. It could be a good idea to ensure they have a glass of water beside their bed, as dehydration could be one of the causes of their bruxism. 

Avoid caffeine

One way you can help reduce the occurrence of bruxism is to limit the caffeine your child ingests throughout the day. Caffeine can come from foods like chocolate or candy, or drinks like soda pop. Limiting these before bed or eliminating them all together may help your child have an easier time relaxing before bed, and less likely to grind their teeth.

Do not chew gum

Chewing gum (or on other items such as pens and pencils) should also be avoided, as this puts additional pressure on the teeth and jaw. Because this process can mimic the grinding or clenching process, you’ll want your child to avoid this so it doesn’t occur later while they’re asleep. 

Treatment options for kids who grind their teeth

How can you stop bruxism in children?

While most children grow out of bruxism, if this isn’t the case not to worry, there are options. One of the first things you should do is speak to your dentist and have them examine your child’s teeth. They can let you know if there is any physical reason why they’re grinding their teeth at night, such as misaligned teeth or bite. 

If this is the case, typically they will give your child a mouth guard, to help prevent bruxism at night. A mouth guard will prevent the teeth from grinding together, and will help alleviate the pressure of clenching throughout the night. 

Alternatively, your dentist may suggest temporary crowns to help stop your child’s bruxism. Depending on where the teeth or grinding or how often it’s occurring, this might be a more targeted approach. 

After consistently using the mouth guard (or temporary crowns) and following a plan developed by your dentist to prevent teeth grinding, the bruxism should eventually taper off. While bruxism is typical in children, its cause can be complicated. There can be physical as well as psychological causes, and you’ll need to ensure you work to find a solution that addresses both. 

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