Down Syndrome And Bruxism: 4 Things Parents Need To Know

Bruxism is a dental disorder characterized by clenching and grinding of the teeth. Bruxism is a serious problem for people with Down syndrome, so parents need to be aware of it. Here are four things parents need to know about Down syndrome and bruxism.

What are the symptoms of bruxism?

There are many signs that can indicate that your child is suffering from bruxism. Your child may tell you that their teeth hurt. Pain around the jaw, cheeks, temples or ears can also be a clue that your child is clenching and grinding. Your child may also tell you that their teeth hurt when they eat sweet or cold foods; if they're too young to communicate this, you may notice them wincing or crying out when they eat these foods.

Bruxism leaves tell-tale signs on its sufferers' teeth, as well. Your child's teeth may lose their points, pits and fissures and take on a flattened appearance. They may also chip or crack their teeth due to the forces of their bruxism, and their teeth may even loosen or fall out entirely. If you suspect that your child has bruxism, take them to a dentist right away to confirm the diagnosis.

How does Down syndrome contribute to bruxism?

Down syndrome can trigger bruxism for a few different reasons.

First, anxiety is a common mental health condition among people with Down syndrome, and chronic anxiety can contribute to bruxism. If your child is very anxious, they may be clenching and grinding their teeth as a coping mechanism.

Second, dental malocclusion can contribute to bruxism. Malocclusion means that the teeth are crooked or not lined up properly, and this misaligned bite can throw off the balance of the jaw. This unbalanced jaw can put strain on your child's muscles and bones and contribute to their clenching problem.

Third, people with Down syndrome may have lax ligaments around their jaw joint, and when these ligaments are lax, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can result. TMJ is a jaw disorder that can contribute to clenching and grinding behaviors.

Finally, children with Down syndrome may clench due to underdeveloped nervous control. Underdeveloped nervous control is why children with Down syndrome reach milestones like walking and sitting later than other children, but it can also affect their ability to move their jaw.

What problems can bruxism cause?

Bruxism can cause many dental problems and needs to be taken seriously. If your child clenches and grinds their teeth, they may damage their teeth. In fact, if bruxism isn't treated, most sufferers will eventually suffer stress fractures to their teeth. While stress fractures in bones will heal, the teeth don't have the same healing ability. If your child develops dental stress fractures, they'll need to have their teeth repaired at the dentist. This can be done with well-known methods like crowns.

Prolonged clenching and grinding can overwork the masseter muscles—the facial muscles that move the jaw and make chewing possible—which can make them become overdeveloped. These overdeveloped muscles can then damage the nearby salivary glands, causing swelling and pain.

How do dentists treat bruxism?

Your dentist will need to determine why your child has bruxism to be able to treat it. If your child is bruxing due to anxiety, you'll be referred to your family doctor or a mental health specialist for appropriate treatment. If dental malocclusion is responsible, you'll be sent to an orthodontist who will realign your child's teeth to take the strain off of their jaw.

If your child is clenching due to lax ligaments or nervous system issues, their dentist may create a bruxism mouthguard, known as a nightguard, to protect their teeth. This nightguard will be custom-fitted to their teeth, and they'll wear it at night. Nightguards aren't a cure for bruxism, but the device takes the brunt of the force, rather than the teeth.

If you're worried that your Down syndrome child is clenching and grinding their teeth, take them to a dentist for an examination.