Autism Teeth Grinding & Its Relationship to Feeding Problems

Kids with autism usually have problems with picky eating and sometimes can have other oral-motor problems such as teeth grinding. Autism teeth grinding can be particularly challenging because it can be medical and/or behavioral.

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Today I’m sharing a small excerpt from one of my live Q&A calls discussing what you can do for autism teeth grinding and picky eating. This woman has an almost 3-year-old that has teeth grinding and also very picky eating. He has feeding problems. He drinks just milk or formula from the bottle and eats one special cookie and they are on a waiting list for a feeding specialist and she’s just wondering what to do in the meantime. So we’ve got an almost 3-year-old, a global developmental delay, autism teeth grinding and extremely picky eating.

I did answer her and part of my answer was that autism teeth grinding actually can be a medical issue or have a medical component to it. I am not really familiar with all the research on it, but if I were you, I would look into vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can actually lead to teeth grinding. It can also lead to the desire to chomp on ice and those sorts of things. It can also be a habit obviously but it could be teething like molars coming in and could be pain. There’s just a lot of things going on. It could just be self-stimulatory behavior because the child is not being stimulated enough. He’s just drinking milk and formula out of a bottle so it could be the failure to transition to regular chewing and regular drinking out of an open cup or drinking through a straw.

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These are all developmental things that typically developing kids progress up. So there’s just a whole lot of things that could be at play here. One of the things I would do is watch my video blog and read my cheat sheet on weaning from the pacifier and bottle. And I also have a video blog on picky eating and it can really be a diagnosable feeding problem that you are going to need a feeding program. Usually, the feeding programs that I’m familiar with are at hospitals, children’s hospitals, teaching hospitals, and they will have feeding programs, usually in the behavioral or psychological departments and sometimes they’re run by behavior analysts like in the case of Hershey Medical Center. Children’s hospital, I think is run by more of the psychology department, but you may need a structured feeding program.

But in the meantime, I would read the cheat sheet on weaning from bottles and pacifiers. I would look at the video blog resources that I just mentioned. I also did a podcast with Dr. Michael Murray on, medication use and medical issues. When I talked with Dr. Murray, we talked about how the zinc to copper ratio is sometimes messed up in kids and they might need like zinc supplementation for instance. So obviously it’s a more complicated thing than just saying, give them a chewy tube. That might be what you need to do in the short term though. I would also look at patterns like, are there times when your child is not grinding their teeth? Like, if he’s in the pool, he’s not grinding, or if we’re at the playground, he’s not grinding, or if he’s eating, he’s not grinding.

Look for areas of the day when he’s super-engaged, maybe he’s not grinding. Does he have any language because language is kind of an incompatible behavior to teeth grinding? So the more he talks, the less he’ll grind. Maybe it is a pain or a molar issue. Have you gone to the dentist? That would be something I would look at. He could have cavities or abscesses or something else going on with his teeth. So lots of things rolled into that question, so I thought it was a good one for me to cover a little bit. Wherever you’re watching/reading this, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs-up, and share this video/article with others who may benefit. And for more information, you can attend a free online workshop at marybarbera.com/workshop. And I’ll see you right here next week.

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