Why Do I Or My Child Grind Our Teeth? Written By: Dr. Dhwiti Savani, Edited By: Dr. Ankita Shah, September 2020

teeth grinding

Bruxism or clenching of teeth, also known as chronic teeth grinding, affects millions of people including children. It often occurs in your sleep, which makes it more difficult to diagnose.


It is derived from the Greek word brychein, bruxism means tooth grinding. The term was introduced to describe involuntary, excessive grinding, clenching or rubbing of the teeth during nonfunctional movements of the masticatory system. It refers to movements of the jaw that are beyond the normal functional activity of the teeth and jaws (e.g., speaking, chewing or swallowing)

Signs and Symptoms

Some people experience no symptoms whatsoever. Some experience:

a sore jaw

picky or slow eating

tension headaches


a stiff neck

dryness of the mouth

tooth sensitivity

chipped enamel

dull ache starting at the temples

sounds loud enough to wake your partner at night

irregular, interrupted disturbed sleep patterns


Now think, has your child ever complained of the above mentioned signs or have you noticed these signs?
If yes, you need to continue reading below to understand what is going on.


There could be multiple factors affecting you or your child. We need to rule out which one?

Local factors: occlusal interferences, high filling restorations or poor restorations, crowding of teeth, incorrect contact between upper and lower teeth.

Systemic factors: parasitic and digestive diseases like worms, malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies like magnesium, allergies, endocrine disorders, mental retardation, cerebral palsy.

Psychological factors: Personality disorders like hyperactive children and increased stress and anxiety, siblings or parents argument or fighting(altercations) or problems in school and kindergarten.

Habits such as nail biting, chewing pencils and pen are at a greater risk of bruxism.

Tongue Tie

Mouth breathing, noisy breathing, snoring, sleep apnea, sleep disordered breathing

Large tonsils that cause upper airway obstructions

Did you know sleep bruxism or teeth grinding during sleep can be a Red Flag for breathing disturbances?

Believe it or not, bruxism can point us in the direction of diagnosing a rather serious disorder known as Obstructive sleep apnea/ sleep disordered breathing which is highly prevalent in children.


Episodes of teeth grinding generally occur when you transition from a non-REM deep sleep stage to REM sleep stage. It is not a continuous activity but a periodic one that occurs for a few minutes when there is transition in the sleep stages.

Our airway should be nice and wide open while awake or sleeping. As we transition in the deep stages of sleep all muscles of the body relax and the tongue is also one of those muscles. When the tongue musculature relaxes, it positions low and the back of the tongue falls back into the airway. Our body is beautifully made and hence we start compensating. The fight and flight response is triggered as a protective mechanism in order to open up the airway. This results in an involuntary forward movement of the lower jaw to open the airway. This unstable bite increases muscle activity and leads to grinding of the teeth at night.

Now that you have understood the link your obvious question is -What can be done? How can I help my child ?


We would also check for other factors and treat accordingly. If there are any underlying breathing disturbances, these may be addressed.

One of the common risk factors for sleep disordered breathing in young children are enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Research tells us that approximately 75% of children who grind their teeth and have their adenoids and tonsils treated will stop teeth grinding. That leaves a quarter who will continue (Morton 2008, Efketkharian et al 2008). We know that sleep breathing disturbances are multifactorial and removing of adenoids and tonsils is not curative for most children, particularly in the long term.

These problems require a team approach.

A pediatric dentist with a special interest in airways will assess for all risk factors.

Once the airway focused pediatric dentist assesses he/she will take a wholesome approach to treat the problem and help your child by restoring nasal breathing, good sleep and establishing a proper oral rest posture and correct muscle dysfunction of the tongue and face with the help of Airway Orthodontics, Oral Myofunctional Therapy and Breath Retraining.

Happy Breathing!


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Keywords : teeth grinding, bruxism, clenching teeth, grinding teeth at night, sleep disorder, mouth breathing, Oral myofunctional Therapy, sleep dentistry, tongue ties, breath retraining, airway orthodontics