Asked by Jamie, Texas
My 12-year-old stepson not only grinds his teeth but now he has started to suck his bottom lip at night. How can we stop this? Does he need to see a specialist? Need help!
Living Well Expert
Dr. Jennifer Shu
Children's Medical Group
Thanks for writing, Jamie. Teeth grinding (also called bruxism) is very common, affecting more than 30 million Americans, including 3 out of every 10 kids. Children who grind their teeth may also suck their thumbs or lips.
The exact cause of teeth grinding is not known, but the most likely culprits are things like stress, sleep disorders, crooked or missing teeth and having an abnormal bite, where the upper and lower teeth do not come together normally (known as malocclusion). Tobacco, caffeine, alcohol or drug use may also cause teeth grinding. In rare instances, teeth grinding can be a side-effect of antidepressant medicines.
Having a vitamin deficiency (such as of calcium or magnesium) may be linked with teeth grinding, so it's important to follow a well-balanced, nutritious diet and take a multivitamin supplement if needed. Also, short-term teeth grinding may be caused by an illness, such as a cold, ear infection, pinworms or allergies; check with your doctor if the grinding continues after the medical condition has passed.
Most of the time, treatment is not needed and many children will stop grinding their teeth on their own. If left untreated, however, teeth grinding can sometimes damage the teeth or cause headaches and TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain.
Your dentist may recommend a mouth guard or appliance (a splint for the teeth) to protect the teeth and possibly prevent grinding. Orthodontic correction may be needed if the teeth or jaws are poorly aligned. Keeping the jaws relaxed in the daytime by not chewing on pens, pencils, fingernails or gum may prevent grinding and clenching at night. Finally, treating and preventing stress or anxiety through counseling, relaxation, exercise, meditation, hypnotherapy or any number of other stress-relief methods may help eliminate teeth grinding as well.
I encourage our readers to share their success stories for dealing with teeth grinding. Good luck.
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