TMD in Children: Questions and Answers

TMD in Children: Questions and Answers
Posted on 07/08/2022

July-2022-Blog As a loving parent, you naturally feel concern whenever your child complains of any kind of pain, including dental, oral, or facial symptoms. If those symptoms include jaw pain, stiffness, and functional problems, you might need to schedule a pediatric evaluation for a potential case of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, or TMD.

Although many people reflexively think of TMD as a problem that affects adults, this painful syndrome can trouble young children and teens as well. The more you understand about TMD, the more effectively you can help your child cope with it. Take a look at the following questions and answers about TMD in children.

What Does TMD Involve?

TMD gets its name from the joint it commonly involves, the temporomandibular joint. Humans have one of these joints at each end of the jawbone, where it attaches to the skull. The temporomandibular joint boasts an extraordinarily flexible and range of motion to give adults and children alike the ability to eat and speak normally.

The temporomandibular joints include a variety of parts, from the cartilage that prevents bone-on-bone friction to the muscles and connective tissues that allow it to move. Whenever damage or strain affects any of these components, the jaw cannot open and close without discomfort. Doctors refer to this issue as TMD.

What Symptoms May Indicate TMD in Children?

TMD tends to produce the same symptoms in adults and children alike. The classic symptoms include pain and stiffness in the jaw hinges whenever the jaw opens, closes, or clenches. At the same time, your child may hear clicking or popping sounds when the affected jaw joints move. The jaw may even lock in an open or shut position.

The jaw issues created by TMD can vary widely from one child to the next. For instance, your child's TMD might involve only mild discomfort, or it might make chewing all but impossible. Jaw discomfort can range from mild to debilitating in intensity, coming and going unpredictably. You might also see uneven or asymmetrical jaw motion.

TMD can create symptoms in other parts of the body beyond just the jaw. A child who suffers from TMD may also complain of headaches, earaches, hearing loss, or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Neck, shoulder, and facial pain can also occur in children who struggle with TMD.

Why Do Kids Experience TMD?

Some cases of TMD may have fairly obvious causes, such as a blow to the jaw that alters the joint alignment. However, TMD can also occur for less evident reasons. Sometimes a congenital jaw abnormality or malocclusion (bite misalignment) can place unnatural stress on the temporomandibular joints. TMJ arthritis can also cause TMD.

Even those children who display no jaw or dental abnormalities can develop TMD. Many children unknowingly clench or grind their teeth at night, a condition known as bruxism. Stress or worries can trigger this behavior. The clenching and grinding exhausts and strains the jaw joints, which leads to daytime TMD symptoms.

How Can Your Pediatric Dentist Help Your Child's TMD?

A bout of TMD may disappear spontaneously within a day or two. However, recurring or chronic jaw problems merit professional evaluation. A locked jaw calls for emergency care. Your pediatric dentist can use x-rays and other diagnostic imaging technology to examine the jaws while they also examine the teeth for signs of bruxism.

Treatment for TMD in children depends on the underlying cause. If bruxism has led to TMD, your pediatric dentist may recommend a custom-molded night guard to ease jaw strain and protect the teeth during sleep. If your child has a significant jaw or dental misalignment, you might receive a referral to an oral surgeon or orthodontist.

Jaw exercises can help stress-related cases of TMD in children. Your pediatric dentist can instruct your child in specific exercises aimed at relaxing tight jaw muscles. Other soothing remedies may include acupuncture, warm or cold compresses, and techniques to manage emotional stress more effectively.

How Can You Prevent TMD in Your Child?

Although you can't necessarily know whether your child faces specific risks of developing TMD, you can still take preventative steps to minimize those risks. For instance, you may want to discourage chronic thumb sucking and pacifier use since these habits can contribute to jaw and dental alignment problems.

Remember that stress and TMD often go hand in hand. Pay close attention to any signs that your child might struggle with stress or anxiety. Addressing these issues early will improve your child's overall quality of life and may ease jaw strain.

If your child suffers from jaw pain and stiffness that might point toward TMD, schedule an appointment at Dentistry for Children & Adolescents. Our pediatric dentistry team can look for both the signs and the cause of those symptoms to recommend treatment as needed and provide you with home-care advice. Contact us today.

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Dentistry for Children & Adolescents

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