Why do Toddlers Grind their Teeth?

How to stop your toddlers grinding their teeth.

You may have noticed that your toddler has begun to grind her teeth.  This is referred to in the medical community as bruxism, and it isn’t uncommon. It’s estimated that anywhere from approximately 1/6 to 1/3 of children will grind their teeth. For parents, this can be an alarming development and will start to wonder what causes this and what can be done. The truth is, the causes of bruxism aren’t completely clear, although there do seem to be some consistent indicators as to what may cause it.

  • Teething
  • Permanent Teeth
  • Anxiety and Stress
  • Side Effects


When a baby first starts to grow his initial set of teeth, he may start to grind them together. This usually begins to occur at the ages of 5 to 6 months, and bruxism at this age often goes unnoticed since the teeth often rub against the gums and make little to no noise. It is likely at this age that a baby is getting used to having teeth in his mouth and is experimenting. Baby bruxism usually goes away on its own.

Growing permanent teeth

Teeth grinding often starts to appear again when a child begins to lose her baby teeth and the permanent teeth are starting to arrive. As new teeth emerge, the sensations in the child’s mouth start to change and she will often begin to grind her teeth in response to her teeth and her bite changing. Usually, most children will stop grinding their teeth once they have a full set of permanent teeth.

Anxiety and stress

Many parents notice that their children will grind their teeth at night, often while sleeping. There seems to be a correlation between stress levels in children and how often they grind their teeth at night. They may be using it as a coping mechanism for high-stress situations like starting school, a divorce, a death in the family, or a move.

Side Effects

There is evidence to suggest that bruxism is linked with the enlarging of tonsils and adenoids in the back of children’s mouths. This and other upper airway obstruction can lead to sleep apnea (the inability to breathe while sleeping). These conditions are most common in children who sleep on their backs and breathe through their mouths. Sleep apnea can be very dangerous, depriving children of restful sleep, growth and oxygen to their brain. Removing adenoids and tonsils has been effective in reducing bruxism and lessening the instances of sleep apnea.

Although bruxism often disappears on its own, it can lead to headaches and even dental issues in older children. Often a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine can reduce the stress of the child and have an effect on their teeth grinding. Giving your child a massage, a relaxing bath, or playing soft music or reading a book can help your child sleep more confidently and with less tension. It is always wise to confer with a dentist to discuss how often this is occurring and what other solutions they may be able to recommend, as well as inspecting the teeth for any resulting damage. Even if the answer may just be to wait it out, the accompanying peace of mind is well worth the visit.