The sound of little chompers scraping back and forth can be alarming, but it’s actually a very common behavior at this age—especially while a child sleeps. “About half of the toddlers I see grind their teeth at night,” says Samer Hakimeh, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon.
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While grinding in adults is usually a subconscious response to stress, a toddler might grind her teeth for one of two reasons: Baby teeth are flatter than permanent teeth, so her bite may not line up properly; or she’s simply discovering her newly erupted teeth. Although we don’t know why this habit usually happens during sleep, experts think it’s likely because that’s when kids lose full muscle control in their mouth.
There is not much you can do to stop the grinding, says Dr. Hakimeh, who advises against using a night guard until all of your kid’s permanent teeth come in. But fear not! The habit shouldn’t cause lasting dental damage, and most children grow out of it.