Ask a Therapist: Teeth Grinding


My child has no problems with eating or drinking, but grinds his teeth until I want to grind mine! His dentist says it's common in kids with Down syndrome. I saw your teeth grinding items and wondered if they might help? He is 5 years old, does not speak much – he imitates sounds, growls and whale noises from his favorite movies, but has no interest in forming words. He is in speech therapy through school.

Teeth grinding is generally used to help children with special needs to organize their bodies or to calm down; they are seeking stimulation to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint is where the upper jaw and lower jaw meet right below the ears. Babies suckle their thumbs or suckle on a pacifier to get the same needed stimulation. As your dentist noted, teeth grinding is common in children with the diagnosis of Down syndrome, but there are reasons and a treatment protocol. Because your son is not talking, I suspect he has weakness in the masseter muscles (muscles of the jaw) as related to his diagnosis, he too may need that additional stimulation to the TMJ.

This is such a huge issue that I have written a book on the subject called, Assessment and Treatment of the Jaw.

There is a whole chapter on why kids grind their teeth or have other habits that provide direct stimulation to the TMJ. I encourage you to read the book before you invest in any therapy tools, as it will help you identify what tools and activities would most benefit your son.

In addition, if there is a gap between what your son understands and what he can say, then his jaw weakness may be a primary factor in keeping him from using oral language. You may want to look into having him evaluated by an SLP in your area who is familiar with Oral Placement Therapy. Many SLPs have taken our introduction classes and would be able to work with your son if there are muscle-based deficits related to his difficulty in learning to talk. 

Sara Rosenfeld-Johnson


  • Lori Caldwell

    I also have a child who grinds her teeth. I am an SLP and I have taken your Three-Part course several years ago. My daughter has above average speech and language skills, but grinds her teeth…only when she is asleep. My brother is a dentist and we both have concerns about the condition of her teeth because they are getting worn down and the dentin is exposed. Would you have any different advice in this situation?

  • admin

    Hi Moriah,

    Thank you for your post. The book will be available next week to ship! We will get back to you on your question regarding teeth grinding!
    TalkTools Team

  • Moriah

    Where can I get the book you mentioned above? My 7 year old son (Down Syndrome) used to grind his teeth and had grown out of it (we thought.) He recently had surgery and the grinding has returned with ferocity. It’s only during the day and is worse than before. His teeth have been ground down to next to nothing. I’m at a loss as to what to do and try, but I would really like to nip this in the bud before his permanent teeth come in – he as 2 bottom ones so far. Any help would be wonderful!

  • Jaime

    To Lori,

    I know I am replying well after the original message, but on the off chance you see this reply, I would also recommend you have your child evaluated by an ENT (Ear, nose and throat specialist) for airway obstruction- enlarged adenoids, tonsils and allergies can cause poor sleeping which is when grinding occurs. If your child has a history of chronic ear infections, this is the most likely cause, and is actually the main reason children under the age of 8 grind their teeth.

  • admin

    Hi …., As you may remember from the class you took the TMJ is the site of stability and calming in the human body. In my book, “Assessment and Treatment of the Jaw” I devote an entire chapter to the “habits” associated with the need for TMJ stimulation and why they exist. In the same way that infants suckle their thumbs or suckle on a pacifier to give stimulation to the TMJ for calming older children will grind their teeth, bite their nails, etc to achieve the same calming. Therefore, the rest of the book is devoted to activities to address this need as an alternative to the grinding. These activities are safe and will not hurt the child but will give the needed stimulation during the day so that it is not needed at night. Many of these activities can be performed right before bed to assist the child in getting to sleep and staying asleep.

    In your daughter’s case, you must first determine if there is a reason why she is teeth grinding only at night. The questions you have to ask yourself are in the book but I will give some of them to you here:

    1. Is she experience stress during the day from over scheduling or some other stressor? If so that must be addressed.
    2. Is she having trouble falling asleep and waking often therefore needing the grinding to calm down for sleeping?
    3. Because your brother is a dentist I must assume he ruled out the possibility of dental alignment problems and the need to
    grind to get a better bite.
    4. You say she has normal speech and language development but I would also rule out jaw weakness as that is a primary
    cause of teeth grinding. The activities to test jaw skills are also in the book I mentioned above. One you can test right
    away is to see if she is chewing on her back molars.

    I hope this answers our question but if not feel free to reply back with any additional concerns.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Explore more