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Teeth Grinding in Children, Adolescents, and Teens

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: May 22, 2017

Teeth grinding is the first thing that parents think of when they discover signs of wear on their children’s teeth. And while teeth grinding in children, adolescents, and teens is common (which I’ll explain later in this article), it is not always the reason that teeth become worn. In many cases, frequent consumption of highly acidic beverages is what causes tooth wear in young people.

To understand why acidic beverages cause tooth destruction, it’s important to know what pH means.pH is the measure of the acidity and alkalinity of a liquid. The more acidic a liquid, the more damaging it is to your teeth.

Acidic beverages such as soda pop break can down tooth enamel, which is the outer protective coating of your teeth. When tooth enamel breaks down, dentin, the underlying tooth material, is exposed. Because dentin wears down six times faster than enamel, daily exposure to acidic beverages can cause enormous damage to teeth.

Most of the popular beverages in the U.S. are highly acidic, as you can see from the chart below. Sadly, these are also the beverages most preferred by young people. To make matters worse, it’s common for them to vigorously swish beverages from side to side in their mouths before swallowing, making the potential for tooth destruction even more probable.


Teeth Grinding in Children, Adolescents & Teens Donald Tanenbaum


When parents who are concerned about their children’s worn teeth come to my office, the first thing I look for is signs of highly developed and bulky jaw muscles. That is the hallmark of teeth grinding and clenching. If I don’t see those signs, then frequent acid exposure is most likely to be the cause.

Teeth Grinding in Children, Adolescents, and Teens

Teeth grinding in children, adolescents, and teens causes a different type of destruction. Grinding and clenching produces frictional wear as opposed to the erosion of tooth enamel caused by acid.

Grinding and clenching behavior usually occurs during sleep and, because of that, is called sleep bruxism. Sleep bruxism affects approximately 5%-10% of young people, and the number is growing.  

The underlying reasons for teeth grinding in children, adolescents, and teens remains unclear, but we believe it is likely to be related to fragmented sleep accompanied by frequent brain arousals. The cause can include (but is not limited to) insomnia, generalized states of daily anxiety, medications such as those used to treat AHD/ADHD, and obstructed breathing due to large tonsils, and/or small lower jaw profiles.

If you’ve noticed your children’s teeth are showing signs of wear, such as chips (or if they’re beginning to look smaller), it’s important to see your dentist as soon as possible. If acidic beverages are the cause of the problems, until that risk factor is addressed, the potential for excessive tooth destruction will go unchecked – and likely lead to extensive dental in the future.

Remember, the best beverage is water!

DISCLAIMER: The advice offered in response to your questions is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. Namely, we in no way offer a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendation for your particular situation. Our intent is solely educational and our responses to your actual questions serve as a springboard to discussion of a variety of dental topics that come up in a day-to-day dental practice. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified professional.

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