KIDS who suffer mental health problems are grinding their teeth down to their gums, experts warn.
These shocking photos of worn down enamel reveal the extent of the damage that mental illness can cause in children as young as six.
Dentists say that children’s teeth can be a “window” into their minds and grinding or clenching – a condition known as bruxism – can be a key warning sign.
Other signs can include bad breath, cheek biting and spots on the tongue, dentists told The Sun Online.
Experts say that bruxism, which can happen throughout the day and night, is linked to emotional or physical stress and anxiety.
Statistics show more young people are struggling to cope – with 200 schoolchildren taking their own lives every year.
But suicide is preventable, and it’s why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone suicide prevention campaign a year ago this week.
To mark World Suicide Prevention Week, we’re turning the focus to young people and the pressures they face.
That includes the worrying toll a child’s mental health can impact on them physically.
Graphic images published in the journal Canadian Dental Association show two children, aged six and seven, who had worn their teeth down through gnashing.
In both cases, the condition was believed to have been triggered by psychological disturbances, resulting from harrowing – although different – experiences.
Doctors writing in the journal said that in the first case, a six-year-old boy was brought to see the dentist by his mother.
She explained that he had been gnashing his teeth at night, but wasn’t sure how long it had been going on.
The boy had chronic respiratory problems, due to allergies, and an absence of gastroesophageal reflux but his mum said he wasn’t taking medication or drinking acid drinks.
She described him as highly excitable, but during the examination he was shy and introspective.
The family lived in a violent area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where shootings were frequent and the boy’s mum explained how he would become apprehensive after these incidents.
A dental examination revealed he was in the process of losing his milk teeth and already had some adult teeth.
But all of his front primary teeth were badly worn and there were small fractures to the cusps of some of the back teeth.
He was given a soft-based bite plate – a type of mouthguard – to wear at night and referred for psychological treatment.
In the second case, a seven-year-old boy was brought to see his dentist by his parents who were concerned he clenched his teeth throughout the day and gnashed them during the night.
His mother said that he had suffered from “night terror”, which had been diagnosed by a doctor, although he wasn’t being treated for it.
She explained that the symptoms had started around two years earlier when she separated from the boy’s dad.
He had seen a private dentist when the grinding first began and given a bite-plate for both day and night, but claimed it hurt him so he hadn’t been wearing it.
The seven-year-old boy was also showing signs of wear to the rest of his teeth[/caption]
The key signs your child is at risk of suicide
Mental health disorders don’t just affect adults, kids are at risk too.
Children as young as two are even said to be suffering, with the NHS previously stating one in eight kids has a mental illness.
Mental health problems can lead to suicidal thoughts, so here are the key signs to watch out for:
- Bad mood that won’t go away
- Tearful or emotional outbursts
- Lack of interest in fun things they used to love
- Feeling tired all the time
- Eating less or binge eating
- Trouble sleeping
- Lack of concentration
- Low self-esteem
The child, who was also in the process of losing milk teeth, had pronounced wear on all primary teeth, the dentists noted.
He also had an extra tooth growing near the back of his mouth, which had to be removed, before being given a mouthguard for day and night use.
The boy was also referred for psychological monitoring.
Dr Andréa Gonçalves Antonio, lead author of the report published in 2006, said: “Both our patients were referred to a psychologist, as we believed that the level of emotional stress generated by life events experienced by the patients was a factor in their bruxism.”
‘Teeth are window to mind’
Dr Richard Marques of Devonshire Place Dental told The Sun Online a child’s teeth can offer parents a “window into their mental health”.
He said there are various warning signs to watch out for, and added that ensuring kids have regular checks at the dentists can help.
“Mental health problems can show in a child’s teeth,” he said.
“The stress can cause a child to grind their teeth, you will see a loss of tooth height.
“As the teeth wear down it’s often noticeable on the front teeth.”
The stress can cause a child to grind their teeth, you will see a loss of tooth height
Dr Richard Marques
Other issues to watch out for include bad breath, cheek biting and spots on the tongue.
“Eating disorders, bulimia in particular, can cause stomach acid to dissolve the enamel, which can cause pain and sensitivity.
“And bad breath is a warning sign that your child may not be brushing their teeth, which can be because they are forgetting and preoccupied.
“Cheek biting is really obvious to dentists, we can see the pattern when we examine a child, and is another sign of stress.
“And if a child isn’t eating properly and is deficient in vitamins, like B and C, they will develop spots on their tongue.
“As dentists we are in a good position to spot the early warning signs, which is another reason it’s so important to make sure your child has regular six-month check ups.”
But experts also reckon they can use the state of kids’ teeth to identify those who are more likely to develop mental health issues as they grow up.
Scientists in America analysed the milk teeth and mental health of 37 kids over several years.
They found that children with thinner enamel – the hard outer part of the tooth – were more likely to develop particular problems.
These included aggression, inattention, impulsiveness and hostility.
Dr Erin Dunn, from Massachusetts General Hospital, who carried out the study, said gnashers are as good a predictor as low socioeconomic status, which is one of the biggest risk factors for poor mental health.
YOU'RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
- Movember, www.uk.movember.com
MORE FROM YOU'RE NOT ALONE
One in 10 primary school children in England have at least one mental disorder, figures from NHS Digital show.
This rises to 1 in 7 at secondary school and 1 in 6 at college.
Teeth serve as a record of a youngster’s upbringing and can reveal the quality of their diet and their stress levels.
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