Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), or commonly referred to as TMJ, are issues in the jaw joint that can cause pain or tension within the jaw joint or with the associated nerves and muscles. Problems with TMD can be mild—a clicking or popping sound in the jaw joint. But they may also grow severe—a locking of the jaw that prevents chewing or talking. TMD typically occurs in adults, especially women. But it is not uncommon to see children affected by a jaw joint disorder.
While TMD can be caused by a muscle or joint deformity, issues with TMJ are usually caused by an increase in stress and anxiety, trauma to the jaw, or overexertion. Children, and particularly teenagers, can go through periods of high stress that can cause TMD.
Behaviors, such as teeth grinding or clenching, are indicators of TMD. It is also possible that a bite problem or a jaw alignment issue may increase the likelihood of developing TMD. Anything that increases stress on the jaw joint has the potential of causing TMD.
How Does TMD Present in Children?
Children can show the same symptoms of TMD as adults, so it is important to know what to look for. When your child opens or closes their jaw, can either of you hear a popping or clicking sound?
TMD reduces the quality of the movement in the joint, which can affect how the muscles and ligaments move. This causes the jaw to click or pop. A clicking or popping jaw may not necessarily cause any pain. But you should keep an eye on it just in case.
On the other end of the spectrum, TMD can actually cause the jaw to lock or freeze in place, which can be extremely painful and uncomfortable. The temporomandibular joint is responsible for the jaw’s ability to hinge and move side to side. If the muscles or tendons are damaged, it will inhibit movement.
Any time there is a great amount of tension in the jaw or face, it can cause headaches or tenderness in the jaw, face, or neck. If your child experiences regular headaches or has an increase in headaches, it could be a symptom of TMD.
Consider gently pressing along your child’s cheeks and jawline to see if they have any tenderness. While there could be many reasons for headaches and facial tenderness, TMD could be a possible answer, especially if it is in conjunction with other symptoms.
How Can Dentists Treat TMD In Children?
Depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms, there is a wide range of options to lessen their pain and discomfort. Resting the jaw is a good way to let the muscles rest and relax.
Avoid excessive chewing and talking for whatever period of time your dentist recommends. Similarly, they should avoid anything that would involve opening their mouth wide.
Soft foods will help if the problems are concerned with overuse. The less effort that their jaw has to work, the better.
If the TMD is caused by teeth grinding or a bite problem, your dentist may suggest a bite plate or oral appliance or a bite correction to reduce the symptoms and protect their teeth. Although it is uncommon, your dentist may recommend surgery to fix your child’s issues with TMD if they are severe enough.