TMJ Problems in Kids and How to Prevent Them

Dec 28, 2020

Does your child ever complain of pain when yawning, smiling, or chewing? We see these complaints often at Stellar Kids Dentistry in Mukilteo, Mill Creek, and Everett, Washington. Jaw pain is common in people of all ages, and it typically disappears on its own. But sometimes, the pain actually worsens. 

If your child has a sore jaw, it can quickly progress with more concerning symptoms, such as headaches, earaches, and tooth pain.

So, why does this happen? While jaw pain can happen for many reasons, the most common cause is TMJ.

What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull. It acts like a sliding hinge that allows you to chew, speak, and smile comfortably. When this joint or the muscles and tendons that surround it are irritated, you can develop temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

TMJ may go away on its own, but it’s often chronic — meaning it can last for 6 months or more. Without the right care and treatment, your child’s pain can continue flaring up.

How do I know if my child has TMJ?

TMJ symptoms range from mildly uncomfortable to very painful, so it’s important to watch out for the warning signs in children. The most common signs of TMJ in children are:

  • Pain when chewing
  • Facial pain
  • Earaches
  • Headaches
  • Popping sound when opening mouth
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Sore jaw muscles

If you suspect your child has TMJ, talk to your pediatric dentist at Stellar Kids Dentistry or orthodontist at Stellar Family Orthodontics about your treatment options.

What causes TMJ in children?

There are plenty of reasons your child may have TMJ, but the most common is bruxism, or teeth grinding. Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw can change the entire alignment of your bite, which only aggravates TMJ symptoms.

Most people have no idea they’re teeth grinders. If your child does have bruxism, they likely grind their teeth at night when they’re asleep. 

How can I prevent TMJ?

If your child has symptoms of TMJ that can be connected to teeth grinding, protecting their teeth from damage is your first step in treating and preventing TMJ.

After a full dental exam, which includes X-rays, your pediatric dentist may recommend a custom night guard. These oral appliances protect your child’s teeth by providing a much-needed barrier. TMJ guards also relieve pressure from your child’s jaw muscles and TMJ joints to relieve pain.

Your dentist can also recommend orthodontic treatments, such as braces, if the problem stems directly from a misaligned bite. Braces can help realign your child’s bite to relieve pressure from their jaw joints.

It’s important to make sure your child is aware of their TMJ, so they can take steps to avoid clenching and grinding. Relaxing the jaw muscles through massage, breathing techniques, and regular exercise can significantly reduce TMJ flare-ups.

Think your child may have TMJ? Schedule a dental exam with the experienced team at Stellar Kids Dentistry today!