Why is my child grinding their teeth?

Many parents say that they can hear their child grinding teeth at night while sleeping.  They come in and ask what we can do about it. In many cases the childs teeth will be flattened like our adult TMJ patients and in some cases I have been able to see the pinkish color of the tooth pulp just below the thin layer of very work tooth. So the more important question to ask would be “why are they grinding?”

More often than not, the answer to why the child is grinding has to do with an airway issue. So now you are thinking, my child isnt overweight, how could they have an airway issue? I can tell you that in the vast majority of my pediatric dental patients who grind teeth have enlarged tonsils. All I have to do is look into the back of their throat during the dental exam and typically one or both tonsils will be much larger than they should. I usually get the parent that brought them to look over my shoulder while doing this so they can see for themselves the narrow little passage that their child has back there to breath.’

When we see enlarged tonsils affecting the airway, many times the adenoids are also enlarged and can negatively affect the airway as much or even more than the tonsils as they sit right up in there behind the nasal passage. In my office we cant see the adenoids without a special xray called a cephalometric xray, which is often taken for orthodontics.  So we typically refer to the ENT physician to evaluate the tonsils, adenoids, nasal airway and allergy test if necessary. In a young child who has enlarged tonsils and or adenoids, it makes a night and day difference for the childs breathing and sleep after they are removed. Suddenly the child can sleep through the night quietly with the mouth closed. They sleep better since they are not experiencing numerous microarousals( brief episodes of arousals from a deeper sleep) throughout the night, very similar to what happens with sleep apnea patients. In many kids, this will improve behavior and concentration.

Another extremely important benefit of correcting a pediatric airway issue is in the better growth of the jaw and less crowding of teeth. This is a whole other topic which will be covered in the next article over the relation between airway and orthodontic crowding.

So, if you see your child snoring, mouth breathing, or with worn teeth and need a dentist in Victoria, TX to evaluate them please call us.


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