Q. My three-year-old daughter grinds her teeth when she sleeps at night.
I'm worried that this may cause her teeth to be misaligned and affect her permanent teeth later.
Are there any treatments for this? What happens if she does not stop?
A. Teeth grinding at night (also known as sleep bruxism) is not uncommon, occurring in up to one in three pre-schoolers.
But the intense noise can cause many parents to worry about the impact on a child's dentition.
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The causes of sleep bruxism are not completely known but stress and anxiety have been implicated.
A transient phase of teeth grinding may occasionally occur as a new tooth erupts in the mouth.
There may also be a possible association between sleep bruxism in children and sleep disordered breathing such as obstructive sleep apnoea.
Thus, if the grinding appears to disturb her sleep, you should consider seeing a doctor specialising in sleep medicine to rule out sleep issues.
Sleep bruxism can cause symptoms such as morning headaches, a sore jaw or tooth sensitivity although this is rarely reported in young children.
The most noticeable effect of sleep bruxism is likely to be the wearing and flattening of tooth surfaces, due to the repetitive rubbing action.
Despite this gradual shortening of her teeth, this is unlikely to cause misalignment of teeth or discomfort to her.
However, the best way to maximise your child's potential for good dental alignment is by taking optimal care of her baby teeth, which help to "reserve space" for the permanent teeth.
Ensuring that she remains free of dental cavities and prolonged habits like thumb sucking are key. Your paediatric dentist will be able to guide you along this journey.
Treatment for sleep bruxism is rarely necessary at a young age.
Some parents have tried playing soothing music or reading stories at bedtime to create a relaxing mood. But the results are varied.
Rest assured that as she transits to a full set of adult teeth by about 12 years old, sleep bruxism will have ceased in most cases.
If the sleep bruxism persists and signs of wear are noted on the permanent teeth, dental mouthguards can be specially made to protect these surfaces.
Your paediatric dentist will be able to spot these signs of wear early during your regular visits and discuss the options with you.
Dr Tabitha Chng
Paediatric dentist at Thomson Specialist Dentistry.