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Ask Dr. Sears: Toothy Troubles

Q. My son grinds his teeth. Why does he do this, and can it cause any damage to them?

Though teeth grinding (also called bruxism) can hurt little teeth, most kids outgrow it before any harm is done. To be sure, it's best to have your son examined by a pediatric dentist.

Unlike adults, who grind their teeth during sleep due to subconscious tension, children usually do it out of habit, or for a physical reason. In my practice, I find that teeth grinding is often linked to allergies or fluid in the middle ear. When fluid fills the tiny tube that connects the throat to the middle ear, pressure builds up. Your child may attempt to relieve it by moving his jaw in a grinding motion. See your pediatrician if you suspect either of these as a cause.

If your child grinds his teeth during the day, pay attention to what triggers it: Is he overly tired, bored, or upset? If so, discuss strategies with the dentist. For example, you may want to get him involved in a fun activity that gets his mind off his teeth, or help him substitute teeth grinding with some harmless habit.