5 Signs of Dental Discomfort in Young Children

5 Signs of Dental Discomfort in Young Children
Posted on 03/03/2023

unhappy young boy in discomfortA young child may not yet be able to properly articulate when they are suffering some sort of dental discomfort or pain. Yet, attending to dental problems quickly is key in preventing worse issues as your child gets older. Fortunately, there are some simple signs of mouth discomfort that you can watch for.

1. Yawning and Chewing

Yawning and chewing may be the only easily spotted symptom of a dental problem in a very young or pre-verbal child. Often, teething is the cause of this discomfort, so the child stretches their mouth open or chews on something to try and relieve the discomfort. 

It's important to note that yawning and chewing are only a concern if it suddenly becomes excessive or if it accompanies other symptoms, such as irritability or bleeding gums. Otherwise, it is most likely a result of teething. Teething does mean it's time for your child's first dental checkup, though.

Yawning and chewing may also be a sign of other forms of discomfort in the mouth, though. For example, the cause could be jaw pain from a tooth that isn't emerging correctly. If you have concerns, then a dental visit is in order.

2. Head or Ear Complaints

Dental problems can encompass any part of your child's jaw, from the jawbone and joints to the teeth and gums. Furthermore, issues with the teeth or gums aren't always felt at the immediate site of the problem, but may instead present as a headache or earache. If there are no other health issues that could cause these complaints, then the next call should be to the dentist. 

If obvious issues like an ear infection have been ruled out, then there may be an issue with your child's teeth or jaw. Infected teeth and teething can sometimes cause pain elsewhere, including headaches or pain in the jaw near the ears. 

Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is another common cause of head and jaw pain. Young children sometimes grind their teeth, especially when sleeping. Stress can cause bruxism in children, but it's often simply caused by teeth that aren't aligned properly due to the mix of baby and adult teeth in the jaw. Your dentist will determine if further treatments will be necessary to prevent further jaw pain or tooth damage from the grinding.

3. Bleeding Gums

Bleeding gums in young children aren't always a cause for alarm. It's normal for there to be some bleeding and irritation when a child is teething or when the adult teeth begin to come in. If bleeding is happening at other times, such as when your child is brushing or eating, then there may be a dental issue that needs immediate attention. 

Gum disease doesn't seem like something that can affect children, but, unfortunately, that's not the case. Although gum disease does normally affect adults at higher rates, some people are more genetically prone to developing issues. If there are other issues at play, such as poor hygiene, then it's even more likely that a child may develop problems.

Of course, gums can bleed because of less severe causes. Using the wrong toothbrush, simple tooth decay, or minor injury may also be the reason for bleeding. Your dentist can determine if further treatment is needed or if the issue will resolve on its own. 

4. Chronic Bad Breath 

Children aren't always as aware of hygiene issues that are obvious to adults, like bad breath. For this reason, it's a good idea to monitor your child's breath a couple of times throughout the day. If you begin to notice bad breath, particularly bad breath that persists after brushing, then a dental visit is in order so that the cause can be determined. 

Sometimes chronic bad breath can indicate that your child has a medical condition, such as the juvenile form of gastroesophageal reflux, tonsillitis, or a sinus infection. Dentists are sometimes the first to spot these symptoms since they spend more time in the oral environment than a pediatrician. 

Bad breath can also indicate an actual dental issue, such as tooth decay or gum disease. Dental infections, such as gum abscesses, can also lead to chronic bad breath in children. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are necessary, as dental infections can spread from the mouth to other parts of the body. 

5. Behavioral Changes

Changes in behavior due to dental discomfort most obviously affect infants, toddlers, and preschoolers that may not be able to properly articulate dental issues. Increased fussiness or crankiness, crying, loss of appetite, and refusal to join in things the child normally enjoys indicate that something is wrong or causing some sort of pain. 

Behavioral changes are not unique to issues affecting the teeth, gums, or jaw. Persistent issues that can't be traced to something else like a routine change or brief illness should raise flags, though. An example is when a child won't eat or will only eat soft foods, as this may be a sign of pain when chewing.

If medical and situational causes for the behavioral changes have been ruled out, then the next step is to determine if there is dental pain or discomfort affecting the child's behavior. 

Call Dentistry for Children & Adolescents if you notice any concerning dental distress symptoms in your child.  


Dentistry for Children & Adolescents

  • Edina Office - 7373 France Ave. S., Suite 402, Edina, MN 55435 Phone: 952-831-4400
  • Burnsville Office - 14050 Nicollet Ave., Suite 100, Burnsville, MN 55337 Phone: 952-435-4102
  • Eden Prairie Office - 6385 Old Shady Oak Road, Suite 150, Eden Prairie , MN 55344 Phone: 952-932-0920

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