According to Stopbullying.gov, an initiative by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, between one in three and one in four American children have experienced some sort of bullying, and over 70 percent have witnessed it among their peers. Bullying can often cause children to become quiet and withdrawn, isolating themselves from their parents and peers. So, how do you know as parents if your child is being bullied – especially if they won’t tell you? According to a new study in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, you might want to ask their dentist.
The study, conducted by the Department of Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerias in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, revealed that teenagers who experienced verbally abusive bullying at school were four times more likely to experience bruxism, or teeth grinding, than those who were not bullied. According to the study, bullied students were found to grind their teeth at a rate of about 65 percent, compared to about 17 percent for students who are not bullied.
Dr. Alexandra George of Wexford, Pennsylvania, was not involved in the study but believes monitoring the condition of your child’s teeth could be a useful way to keep tabs on their emotional health.
“While I don’t think it should be the only way you monitor your child’s behavior, if you’re not having luck communicating with your child, keeping tabs on their oral health could be very revealing,” she says. “Especially if your child has not had issues with bruxism in the past.”
While many things can encourage bruxism, including genetics and sleep disorders, stress is often a huge factor as well. But George reminds parents that stress doesn’t necessarily mean bullying, either.
“Kids today do deal with a lot more stress than they did in previous generations,” George says. “Sports, keeping their grades up, pressure to perform well on standardized testing and the pressure to fit in can all take their toll.”
George recommends trying to keep an open dialogue with your kids about their school and personal lives while maintaining trust.
“Even just telling your child that you’re here if they need to talk can go a long way. Even if you haven’t always had a very open relationship, your child needs to see you as an ally, not part of the problem,” she said.
If you’re still not getting anywhere, keep an eye out for the signs of bruxism at home, including clenched jaws; gritting or grinding teeth; worn, cracked or broken teeth; or frequent headaches or jaw pain.
“If something seems off, speak to your child’s dentist privately so he or she can take a closer look without making your child feel uncomfortable or shy,” George says. “If there are signs of bruxism, your dentist can address the oral health side of things, but it’s up to you as the parent to discuss what could be causing it in the first place.”