My boy is just closing in on 6 years of age. (thanks to p.se.com, he spits after he brushes his teeth) About a month ago his lost his two front teeth within a week of each other. The new teeth have both been coming in at a seemingly quick speed.

My boy however has taken to gnawing. Primarily on the collar of his shirt, sometimes on other random (and not always acceptable) objects. I don't think it's intentional, but to deal with the changes in his mouth. Is this something I should discourage, encourage with appropriate things, or talk to a dentist about? He has been producing more saliva in the past week or two.

Any advice appreciated!

4 Answers 4


I would be inclined to think that if he just got two new first adult teeth in they are quite sharp, and causing minor discomfort which gnawing relieves to some degree. It's easy to forget exactly how incredibly sharp brand new teeth that just broke through the gums are, before they've had time to become dulled through eating and other ordinary activities.

Yes, I would call your child's dentist and ask for suggestions about how to direct this craving to gnaw. It may be that what works for teething toddlers works for new adult teeth as well, a pain reliever (Children's Tylenol or Children's Advil), or chewing on something hard or cold, perhaps frozen.


I don't know, but it can't hurt to be extra sure he's getting plenty of calcium, iron, and zinc with those teeth coming in - shortages of anything can cause odd cravings. Also, consider whether he has some lactose intolerance if he gets plenty of food with calcium and iron - he might not be getting all the nutrients from it. Add in children's chewables if he's not taking them already - Vitamin C helps with iron absorption. And a rapid growth spurt can put a drain on everything anyway. BB! - K


Gnawing or grinding is usually a response to itchy or agitated gums.

I wouldn't suggest encouraging it -- he will do it naturally, you don't need to get crazy about it - just discourage it and see if his gums are itchy. If they are, he can lightly massage the gums with a very soft bristle toothbrush (I believe he can do this without damaging his gums as long as they are not bleeding. Speak to your dentist about exactly what you should do if his gums are itchy).

Generally gnawing is generally something you should try to minimize, but also accept that it's inevitable.


Disclaimer: I'm assuming your child does not have a disorder such as autism or ADHD.

It sounds like your child might have an oral fixation. If that is the case, you might want to try talking to an occupational therapist if you can't come up with a work around yourself at home.

I would figure out the root cause because it can be something he might get teased about at school. Some people have tried deflecting the chewing to appropriate items:

  • Chewing tubes
  • Gum - but he might be too young for that
  • If he likes the feel of fabric, you can make a bracelet out of cloth

Usually it's just a sensory need that food is not giving him satisfaction of. You can try giving him more eclectic food flavors/textures. You can also try to see if he would rather lick his teeth with his tongue and perhaps the feel of the teeth is enough stimulation. Not sure if you want to change a habit for a different habit though.

Also, observe what type of situations cause him to do this: stress, fear, etc. so that you can better help him deal with his emotions if it is emotionally caused. Of course, his dentist would have great insight as well.

  • First, autism is a serious disorder with very obvious symptoms. You don't need to drop the 'A' word on every single problem you see. Second I think you're ignoring the fact that his gums may be irritated before you go for big problem OT help needed. Further you should not encourage chewing outside of eating because you can encourage or exacerbate TMJ.
    – bobobobo
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 15:59
  • Wow. I was not trying to be offensive. I was just stating my assumptions. Personally, I say if you have insurance and can afford it, go seek other medical professionals or other specialists for issues that you feel your primary care physician isn't helping you deal with. Getting other opinions is not bad. You don't have to follow their advice.
    – Rhea
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 16:16

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