Toddler Grinding Teeth in Sleep

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Are you worried about your toddler grinding teeth in sleep?

Toddlers and small children often grind their teeth in their sleep, either during afternoon nap time or after you have put them to bed for the night.

The good news is that toddler’s teeth grinding usually isn’t anything to worry about. Toddlers and young children don’t yet have their permanent teeth, so the damage caused by tooth grinding is likely to be both mild and temporary.

There are, of course some exceptions. Extreme tooth grinding in toddlers can cause the jaw muscles to hurt, and in rare cases a young child grinding their teeth excessively can even result in temporomandibular joint disorder.

In this article, we’re going to talk about what causes sleep bruxism (or nighttime teeth grinding) in toddlers, what the potential consequences are, and how to prevent your little one from grinding his or her teeth at night.

What is sleep bruxism?

First things first – what is nighttime tooth grinding, also called sleep bruxism?

Nighttime tooth grinding is quite common, both in very young children and to a lesser degree in adults. In adults, grinding your teeth on an ongoing basis can cause quite a lot of damage to your teeth and jaw, but in toddlers the effects are usually much less severe.

Sometimes night bruxism can be an indirect effect of a sleep disorder, misaligned teeth or other underlying causes, but more often than not it is simply a sign of your toddler growing and experiencing normal teething pain and discomfort.

Is teeth grinding normal in toddlers?

Teeth grinding or bruxism is very common in toddlers. In fact, studies show that somewhere between 14-17% of toddlers grind their teeth at night.

Most children outgrow night bruxism by the time they are around six years of age and their permanent teeth have grown in.

How to spot nighttime bruxism in toddlers

How can you know if your toddler is grinding his or her teeth at night? Here are the top signs to watch out for:

  • You notice a grinding sound while your toddler is sleeping
  • Your little one starts complaining of jaw pain
  • Your toddler winces when eating hot or cold food

What causes nighttime teeth grinding in toddlers?

There isn’t one specific cause of nighttime bruxism. Instead, there are multiple potential causes and contributing factors.

Common causes of nighttime bruxism in toddlers and children include:


Has your toddler reached teething age?

Most toddlers’ teeth grow in when they are between six and 12 months old. Teething can be uncomfortable as teeth are pushing their way up through your little one’s gum tissues, and while this is happening your toddler is likely to grind their teeth in response to the discomfort they are experiencing.

Tooth misalignment

If your toddler’s teeth have already erupted but are misaligned, this can also cause pain and discomfort.

If you suspect that your toddler’s teeth may be misaligned or impacted, it is important to take your toddler to a dentist who will be able to make a diagnosis and suggest the best treatment possible.

Low income parents may be tempted to skip regular dental visits, but this will only cause more problems – and accrue more expenses – later on in the child’s life. It is always best to treat any dental problem as soon as possible, before it has time to cause all sorts of knock-on effects.

Ear infection

In some cases your toddler may not actually be grinding their teeth, but rather clenching them because they are experiencing pain from an ear infection.

Other symptoms of ear infection in toddlers include crying and irritability, fever, difficulty falling asleep, difficulty hearing, tugging on the ear and liquid draining from the ear. If you suspect that your toddler may have an ear infection, you should consult your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.

Sleep disorders

Sleep disorders are common risk factors for tooth grinding. There are many different types of sleep disorders including sleep-related breathing problems, parasomnia and snoring. All of these can cause your toddler to grind their teeth.

If your child is suffering from a sleep disorder, bruxism is only going to be one of your worries. A sleep-deprived child is likely to develop behavior problems, lethargy, trouble focusing and concentrating, and general crankiness.


Certain medications can have unfortunate knock-on effects and can also cause sleep bruxism. Fortunately, most toddlers and young children aren’t on much or any medication, but of course there are some exceptions.

Any medications containing either antipsychotics or serotonin reuptake inhibitors are known for causing teeth clenching and grinding.

What happens to your child’s teeth if you don’t intervene?

Because toddlers don’t yet have their permanent teeth, they are likely to outgrow their teeth grinding habits and any wear and tear they sustain to their teeth as a result. Most children outgrow teeth grinding by the age of six when their permanent teeth grow in.

If your toddler only grinds his or her teeth now and then, it is nothing to worry about. It is only if your toddler’s teeth grinding is severe and frequent that you need to intervene.

Jaw pain

If your child complains of jaw pain, this in itself is a sign that they may be grinding their teeth at night without you being aware of it.

When you grind your teeth, the jaw muscles and joints are not only working intensely, they are also under intense pressure. This can lead to pain in the jaw muscles, joints and bone.

Tooth sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is another unfortunate consequence of teeth grinding. It tends to particularly affect the lower teeth, which is where most of the pressure from teeth grinding is asserted.

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel on top of the teeth is worn down as a result of excessive wear and tear. While losing enamel is more problematic in adult whose permanent teeth have long since erupted, it can also lead to tooth sensitivity in very young children.

As a besides, enamel loss also leads to your child’s teeth being much more vulnerable to decay and bacterial infection.

Bad bite

If your child grinds his or her teeth constantly over a longer period of time, it can cause a misaligned bite.

A bad bite is not only inconvenient as it makes it harder to chew and speak, it can also cause painful chewing which can cause your child to fuss and become cranky at every mealtime.

Dental damage

In some cases, sleep bruxism can lead to dental damage. Teeth can simply crack and chip under the pressure they are put under by excessive tooth grinding.

TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)

In extreme cases, teeth grinding can eventually lead to TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder.

The temporomandibular joint is the joint in your jaw,

How to keep your toddler from grinding their teeth

Now that you are aware of the problems that can arise from your toddler grinding their teeth at night, you are no doubt wondering how you can prevent or stop your little one from grinding down his or her baby teeth. Well, here are a few tips that we hope you are going to find useful:

Establish a bedtime routine

You shouldn’t underestimate the power of a relaxing bedtime routine. If your child is experiencing stress and anxiety for whatever reason, finding ways to help your child wind down and relax before bedtime can prove the key to stopping your child’s teeth grinding.

Here are a few ideas you can incorporate into your child’s bedtime routine: Giving your child a gentle massage, pouring a warm bath, playing some soft and gentle music, and reading your child’s favorite book. All of these things can help your child’s mind and body relax and calm down before falling asleep. As result, your child will have released any tension he or she is carrying from the day.


A good way to alleviate some of your child’s teeth grinding is to gently massage your child’s gums. This is an effective and natural way of alleviating teething pain with immediate effect.

Counterpressure that is more diffused and spread out can really take some of the sting out of the shooting pains your toddler is experiencing as a result of the teeth pushing up through the gums.

Mouth guard

In more severe cases, it may be necessary for your child to wear a night guard to prevent damage to the teeth.

Excessive and forceful teeth grinding can cause teeth to fracture, break or simply be worn down much quicker than they should be. Wearing a mouth guard at night can help prevent dental issues and clenching that may damage bot they detest and jaw joints

Teeth realignment

Children with misaligned teeth tend to grind them much more than children whose teeth are well-positioned.

If your child’s teeth are either impacted or misaligned, get your child’s dentist to suggest the best corrective treatment.

Dr Febin Mary George - Editor

With more than 10 years as a dental surgeon, Dr Febin Mary George is passionate about educating consumers around the world to help look after their teeth.

She completed her Bachelor of Surgery at the Century Institute of Dental Science and Research Centre in 2010.

Alongside editing the International Journal of Dental Clinics she has also written for major publications including Thrive Global.