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Kids may outgrow bad habit of tooth grinding

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That odd gnawing noise your child makes in his sleep could be the sound of tooth against tooth. About 14 percent of kids ages 3 to 7 grind their teeth at night — a habit called bruxism. "Kids with sleep disturbances — bed-wetters, sleeptalkers or sleepwalkers — are prone to clenching and grinding," says Rhea Haugseth, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Researchers believe that some kids gnash their chompers because their top and bottom teeth don't meet properly, they have a high tooth they're subconsciously trying to level or they're stressed. Left unchecked, bruxism can erode tooth enamel, cause pain and stiffness in the jaw or wear down and loosen the teeth, says Haugseth.

The good news is that generally grinding won't lead to cavities and kids may outgrow the habit. But if grinding persists beyond age 6, dentists can check the child's bite, file down a high tooth or fit him with a plastic mouth guard to wear at night to protect teeth.

Reducing stress before bed may help. Give your child a warm, relaxing bath followed by storytime. Talk to him about any worries and fears to put his mind at ease. Also, offer him some crunchy fruits and veggies as evening snacks. The chewing action may leave jaw muscles too tired to gnash later.

This article first appeared in Parenting / Family Life magazine. © The Parenting Group