If you’re searching online for “baby grinding teeth,” rest assured, this behavior is common in many babies. In rare cases, it may be cause for concern, but it is also treatable. Here’s what to know about teeth grinding in babies, how to identify it, when to be concerned and why your tot grinds their teeth in the first place.

Bruxism and Babies

According to KidsHealth, 20 to 30 percent of kids grind their teeth. Bruxism is the medical term referring to the act of grinding and/or clenching your teeth. Symptoms of bruxism may include rhythmic contractions in the jaw muscles, some jaw pain and tightness, possible popping in the jaw area and headaches.

The easiest way to identify if your baby is grinding their teeth is to simply listen for it. It may sound like rubbing fine sandpaper and in the case of rhythmic clenching (particularly when your child is sleeping), you may hear what sounds like a soft clinking or grating sound similar to a pestle against mortar.

Notice, too, whether your baby or toddler is clenching or favoring a certain side of their mouth in waking hours. It could be they’re cutting new teeth.

Causes of Teeth Grinding

Babies may begin grinding their teeth when a new tooth comes in, or if their top and bottom teeth don’t align properly, notes KidsHealth. Your baby may simply be exploring how their teeth work and the breadth of actions they can now take with these new budding instruments! However, just as in adults, babies experiencing stress — whether it be a new tooth or a new experience — may grind their teeth as a result.

Is your baby grinding teeth during sleep? The behavior is most common during the non-rapid eye movement phases of sleep, but can occur in any sleep stage. The Dental Press Journal of Orthodontics reports that the cause of sleep bruxism is still unknown but may relate to the central nervous system. A study in Gastroenteroloy Research and Practice determines that sleep bruxism is more common in patients with Crohn’s disease.

When to Be Concerned

Tooth grinding is common in babies and in many cases, they grow out of it. However, be sure to assess whether your child shows signs of other ailments. If they’re pulling at their ear or avoiding food, it may indicate they’re suffering from an earache, a headache, tooth eruption or a stomach infection.

There may also be evidence that intestinal parasitic infections could be an underlying cause of bruxism in children. The most prevalent studies are contradictory. A study published by the Dental Research Journal shows a correlation between parasitical infections and bruxism in children ages 3 to 6. In contrast, a study by the Journal of Dentistry for Children concludes that there is no significant difference in the prevalence of bruxism between the control group and cases with a parasite. Due to the insufficient research on this topic, it’s not clear if parasites cause bruxism in children.

Many babies grind their teeth and stop the habit on their own, but if the behavior persists, consult your pediatrician and pediatric dentist to ensure the problem doesn’t go overlooked and wear on your child’s teeth. Whether treatment consists of physical therapy, stress reduction, mouth guards or medication for aches or intestinal conditions, your medical and dental professionals can help your child continue on the path of good health and oral hygiene.