Healthy Teeth

Teeth grinding in children, plus teeth whitening for a bright smile and the top 10 staining foods

It’s National Children’s Dental Health Month. Here’s what parents should know about two common dental concerns: teeth grinding and teeth whitening. By Malia Jacobson

Teeth grinding in children

Many parents will hear their children’s teeth grinding at some point. A Journal of Dentistry for Children study found that more than a third of parents have reported the condition in their kids. “It can get pretty loud,” admits Paul Bussman, DMD, FAGD, former spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry.

Though teeth grinding, or bruxism, may be alarming or worrisome, “It’s generally a normal part of the growing process” and typically disappears on its own. Severe or persistent grinders may suffer facial pain, earaches, jaw joint disorders, damaged teeth and disturbed sleep. If your child’s teeth have become nighttime noisemakers, here are some tips for coping.

Do not disturb. “Don’t wake kids engaged in nighttime teeth grinding,” says Dr. Bussman. “They’re not aware of it, so bringing it to their attention will probably confuse them.”

Stress less. Grinding can be associated with daytime stress, so help kids relax. Ask them to talk about any stressful events they may have experienced that day, and encourage them to unwind before bedtime with a bath, books and quiet activities.

Back off. Bruxism occurs more commonly during back sleeping. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends back sleeping for infants, but older children who grind may be more comfortable sleeping in another position.

Get a move on. Encourage kids to get adequate exercise. Physical activity eases stress, helps kids fall asleep faster and promotes deep, restful sleep.

Turn-down service. As difficult as it may be, try not to become overly concerned with the occasional episode of bruxism. Turn down the volume on monitoring devices so they aren’t tuned in to every little sound.

If grinding regularly interferes with sleep or if a child complains of pain in his teeth or face, see a dentist. In severe cases, a dentist may prescribe a soft-plastic night guard to protect the teeth and the jaw joint. Occasionally, grinding is associated with a misaligned bite. If that’s the case, a pediatric dentist will refer your child to an orthodontist.

Next page: how to whiten kids' teeth for a bright smile safely


Teeth whitening for kids: Brighten smiles safely

A bright, white smile can be a major confidence-booster. Baby teeth can become discolored for a number of reasons, including minor trauma and decay. But bleaching treatments should be considered off-limits until kids hit the mid-teen years, when a full set of permanent teeth have grown in. Don’t reach for the bleach until you speak to your child’s dentist and read on.

Top 10 Staining Foods

Kids’ teeth are porous and susceptible to staining from everyday fare. For a brighter smile, make sure kids brush thoroughly after enjoying these foods.

  1. Coffee and tea
  2. Cola
  3. Dark fruit juices like grape and cranberry
  4. Fruit pops
  5. Soy sauce
  6. Tomato sauce
  7. Blueberries
  8. Beets
  9. Curry
  10. Chocolate

Target treatments. Full-mouth whitening treatments should be considered only if the majority of a child’s teeth need brightening — typically not the case. Some conditions that darken enamel, like dental fluorosis (mottling caused by excessive fluoride exposure), often affect only a few teeth that a dentist can safely treat with abrasion or single-tooth treatments, minimizing both cost and the impact on gums and surrounding teeth.

Give whitening products a whirl. Whitening can cost hundreds of dollars. Before shelling out for professional bleaching treatments, try over-the-counter whitening toothpaste, floss or strips. Because these products aren’t marketed for children, employ caution, common sense and proper supervision.

Choose snacks carefully. Your child’s diet could be dulling his pearly whites. From heavily pigmented sauces to syrupy sodas, many food products can leave lasting stains on teeth. Make sure kids brush after eating. And avoid heavily pigmented foods and drinks for a day or two after whitening treatments.

Guard the gums. One of the biggest concerns about bleaching is the potential harm to gum tissue, which bleach can irritate and, over time, even change at the cellular level. Custom-made bleaching trays ordered from a dentist’s office can minimize contact between gums and bleaching agents, lessening the chance for irritation.

Note that the results of bleaching treatments are temporary; over time teeth will return to their original hue, and bleaching treatments will need to be repeated. That means proper precautions are paramount, because continued misuse of bleaching products causes the most harm. For superior safety, it’s smart to entrust the whitening process to a trained dentist.

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three. Her latest book is Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.

Categories: Health & Nutrition, Healthy Living