TMJ Disorder and Kids

  • On February 28, 2020

Is your child having jaw pain, or problems opening their mouth? They might have a TMJ disorder.  It might be a good idea to have it examined by a pediatric dentist to determine the severity and the best course of action. Let’s explore some of the basics of TMJ disorders below.

Where is the TMJ located?

If you place your fingers in front of your ears and open your mouth, you can feel the lower jaw move. This socket is where the temporomandibular joint is located and when it is working properly, you don’t even think about it. However, if there are TMJ issues in that area, there are usually symptoms that can appear and should be looked at.

TMJ Disorder Symptoms

If your child notices any pain in their jaw, face or head and also exhibits problems or pain when opening their mouth, chewing or biting, they may have TMJ issues. Look for any popping or clicking when they open their mouth and ask if they have any pain in the jaw area.

While young kids can be impacted by TMJ issues, these issues are more commonly found in teenagers.

TMJ Disorder Treatment

Sometimes, the pain or discomfort in the TMJ area can go away on its own. However, if the pain is severe, a visit to the pediatric dentist is in order to determine the best course of action.

One course of action is simply to rest the jaw to see if the pain will go away and chewing becomes easier. During this period, make sure your child is not chewing gum or eating foods that are tough to chew.

If your child is grinding their teeth at night and this is contributing to their jaw pain, they may require a mouthguard or bite-plate to wear at night.

Additionally, issues with your child’s biting can contribute to TMJ pain and these may require braces to correct.

Most commonly, your pediatric dentist will refer your child to a specialist if they suspect the TMJ issues are not easily correctable.

Oral surgery is usually a last resort for TMJ issues. However, if your child’s mouth or jaw are locked open or shut, it is time to visit the doctor or emergency room in order to rule out other complications.

TMJ Causes

The exact causes of TMJ issues are not completely known, however there are contributing factors to look for. If your child grinds their teeth excessively or clenches their jaw excessively, it can raise the odds that their TMJ can get worn down or displaced.

Clenching and grinding can also impact your child’s bite and their alignment, which can lead to further issues.

Your child may never know that they are grinding their teeth at night. This is why visiting a pediatric dentist is important as the evidence of the grinding can be seen during an examination and the proper steps can be taken to determine the cause and how to deal with it.

Sleep apnea and TMJ issues

Sleep apnea can carry similar symptoms to TMJ disorders as well. If the jaw is misaligned, the airways can become restricted and cause issues with jaw pain, headaches, breathing at night and sleep apnea. Misaligned jaw is also a possible cause for TMJ issues as well and with similar symptoms.

If your child has sleep apnea, they may have trouble sleeping at night or trouble breathing at night. Look for signs that they are using their mouth to breathe, or if they pause breathing during sleep, only to resume with a loud snorting sound.

Treating both sleep apnea and TMJ issues can be done through the use of a mouthguard that aims to re-align the jaw and this can relieve both TMJ pain and also open the airway more to alleviate sleep apnea.

Jaw pain and your child

Not all jaw pain is necessarily indicative of a TMJ issue. If your child is experiencing jaw pain, there may be other causes such as:

  • Broken teeth or injuries to the mouth
  • Toothache
  • Bruising or swelling of the jaw due to injury

Stress and TMJ disorder

Stress can be a causal factor for jaw pain or TMJ disorder. If your child is stressed out (before an exam or due to social or family issues), they may start to develop some damaging habits such as grinding their teeth or clenching their jaw. As mentioned above, these can impact your child’s bite and the alignment of their jaw and lead to pain or TMJ issues. Talk to your child about what is going on in their life and determine if stress may be contributing to their symptoms.

What can parents do?

As a parent, it can be difficult to see your child in pain, especially if you don’t know the cause. This is especially true if your child has difficulty eating due to jaw pain or TMJ issues. These can disrupt their normal routine and everyday life and so it is important as a parent to watch for any signs of discomfort in your child, listen to their complaints regarding any pain in the mouth or jaw, and also determine if stress may be causing them to grind their teeth or clench their jaw on a frequent basis.

Again, the best thing you can do as a parent is to monitor for symptoms and visit a pediatric dentist to determine the root cause of the issues your child has with their jaw. From there, a pediatric dentist can refer your child to a specialist to determine if your child has a TMJ disorder and what should be done about it.

Never let your child live with pain in their jaw or mouth for multiple days in a row if you don’t know the cause. It is important to determine the cause in order to have treatment before the problem worsens. And make sure to always visit a doctor or emergency room if your child has their jaw locked open or shut and cannot move it properly as this can be a sign of a deeper problem.

Image courtesy of:

NATHAN J. PETTIT DMD, MSD
RONALD C. AUVENSHINE DDS, PhD
713-766-3708 MedCenter TMJ, P.C.

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