Development FAQ: 24+ months – Other

Teeth Grinding: My little boy, who is just three, started nursery in September, and although he is quite shy and has never spent much time apart from me before, he has adapted really well. He goes to school readily, and seems to be making friends and settling in. His teachers tell me that he is quiet but always participates in play and doesn’t appear to have any concerns. However about six weeks ago he began to grind his teeth while he slept. It happened once or twice in the first week, but now he grinds his teeth most nights. My husband and I are concerned since we have read that it is an indication of stress, and that it can cause damage to his teeth.

Teeth grinding or bruxism, as it known by health professionals, is very common in a child of this age. It occurs when a child clenches his jaw tightly and then grinds his top set against his lower set of teeth. 30% of under-fives regularly grind their teeth.

There can be several causes:

  • For some children it is a natural part of their development.
  • It might occur when a child’s teeth are not properly aligned.
  • It is sometimes a response to pain particularly if a child is suffering from earache or teething.
  • On occasions it can be caused by stress.

In extreme cases it can lead to damage to teeth. It can also lead to jaw-ache and headaches. Most children who teeth grind do so at night so it is difficult to address the physical action since it is happening subconsciously.

It does seem likely that your little boy has began to grind his teeth as a result of starting nursery. Going to nursery is a big step for most two and three year olds, and it sounds as though this is the first time your child has spent any regular time away from you. It is his first experience of independence, and although it seems as though your son has adjusted well, he is still adapting to this new experience.

  • Try to help your son relax socially by encouraging a closer friendship outside nursery with one or two other children with whom he plays at school. Perhaps there is another mother you like with a child in the same class? Consider making a regularly weekly date to do something together with your children outside nursery. Your son will benefit from a closer friend, and this might help his confidence at school.
  • Talk to him to see if there is any aspect of nursery about which he feels particularly anxious.
  • Concentrate on making sure that the time your son spends with you after nursery is relaxed and happy.
  • Try to ensure that his bedtime routine is consistent and peaceful.
  • Give your son plenty of praise and encouragement.
  • Don’t try to wake your son at night if he is grinding his teeth, since this could exacerbate the problem.
  • Make regular appointments to visit the dentist, and ask the dentist to keep a special eye on any negative effect the teeth-grinding might have. It is possible that your son might be encouraged to wear a mouth guard at night in order to protect his teeth.
  • Try not to worry too much. The most likely outcome is that once your son becomes more confident at nursery, this habit will begin to diminish. The vast majority of children grow out of teeth-grinding with no ill-effects. For further advice and reassurance discuss the matter with your GP or health visitor.