Stress and Dental Bruxism in Children

The relationship between stress and dental bruxism in children is evident. We'll tell you why it happens and how to help little ones who grind their teeth.
Stress and Dental Bruxism in Children

Last update: 02 August, 2021

Stress and dental bruxism in children have a link that today is undeniable. Although states of stress are not the only causes of this disorder, more and more specialists in the field say that the overexertions of childhood are having repercussions on oral health.

Stress isn’t just an issue for adults. Moreover, it’s not expressed exclusively in the physical sphere. There are specialists who even believe that dental bruxism should be classified as a psychological problem when the case so determines.

As we’ve said, stress isn’t the only cause of dental bruxism in children, but we can’t underestimate it either. Therefore, in the following paragraph, we’re going to see what the situation involves, how you can detect it, and what to do if your little one grinds their teeth due to anxiety and nervousness.

Stress isn’t the only cause of dental bruxism in children

A female dentist treating a young boy.

To define dental bruxism in children as stages of stress and anxiety would be inadequate. That’s because we know that the causes of this disorder vary and there are three main types:

  • Oral: The origin of bruxism is present in the teeth themselves. This has been the classic etiopathogenesis that dental professionals have always pointed to. When a child suffers from malocclusion or their dental arches aren’t in the position they should be in, they’re more likely to grind their teeth at night. A specific approach isn’t always necessary for this cause.
  • Sleep-dependent: Bruxism’s a sleep phenomenon. Children grind the surfaces of their teeth against each other while they sleep, so it’s logical to think that an alteration of their nighttime rhythm could be the cause of the problem.
  • Psychological: Here we find stress. A child subjected to demands that are not in accordance with their age, or that’s going through periods of existential crisis (moving, the divorce of their parents, changing schools) is capable of developing bruxism or increasing a grinding that they already had before. The act seems to be a form of reaction to tensions–one more physical symptom on top of other more classic symptoms of stress, such as palpitations or shortness of breath.

Research on the relationship between stress and dental bruxism in children

The link between stress and dental bruxism in children isn’t new in scientific research. Studies have long shown that anxiety and nervousness play a preponderant role in the disorder.

We’ve already made it clear that this isn’t the only cause, but it cannot be overlooked. Especially if the child’s in a situation that warrants the possibility of being stressed.

As early as the 1920s, experts noticed that dental bruxism could be a neurotic oral habit, that is, a repetitive way of acting originated in a neurosis. Therefore, the situation was being classified within psychology. For mental health sciences, it’s no news that the mouth’s a way of discharging emotions. The worries of adults and children find in this physical space a way to express themselves.

So much so, that more research in the same sense determined that there’s a direct and proportional relationship between the degree of bruxism and the intensity of stress. Children who are more stressed and have a busy lifestyle grind their teeth more than others.

What does all this evidence mean? That we can’t look at a child with bruxism as someone with an oral disease that has nothing to do with other areas of their life. Children are whole human beings who must be approached from their biological, social, and psychological realities.

How do I know if my child has bruxism?

The obvious signs of dental bruxism in children, whether it’s caused by stress or oral causes, are the same. The first sign’s the sound parents hear from grinding at night. The habit’s most common between the ages of 6-10 years. This coincides with tooth replacement, which also explains the higher incidence at this time of life.

At the same time, some signs are added when the phenomenon persists for months. Above all, pain in the regions around the mouth, such as the lower jaw and ears.

The dentist will recognize the existence of bruxism by observing the wear of the tooth surfaces in contact. This usually happens after parents bring their child to the dentist’s office because they hear excessive grinding.

It’s also possible for parents to seek a consultation with another specialist, such as an otolaryngologist, due to otalgia (ear pain). Or also with a pediatrician, after noticing constant headaches.

Possible treatments for dental bruxism in children caused by stress

A dentist treating a young girl.

If the origin of the child’s dental bruxism is certified to be stress and not another cause, then an emotional approach should be planned. In such a case, consultation with a psychologist could be a way to treat the situation with the appropriate professional support.

In any case, there are habits that are capable of reducing stress at home. Among them we can mention the following:

  • Decrease activities in the moments before going to bed.
  • Get into the habit of doing relaxing activities at bedtime, such as reading a story.
  • Don’t allow screens in bed.
  • Create spaces to talk to the child about what’s going on or how they feel. Allow them to express themselves, tell their problems, and unburden themselves.

Consulting a dentist is necessary

Although it may seem that dental bruxism in children is something to be expected, it’s advisable to make the corresponding consultations with a dental professional. In addition to the recommended check-ups according to age, it’s a good idea to ask for an appointment if you notice that the child grinds his teeth.

Also, as parents, it’s essential to be attentive to signs that could indicate stress. These won’t always be obvious symptoms, nor will there be a noticeable expression. When in doubt, the best thing to do is to talk to your children.

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