While most TMJ pain and TMD sufferers are adults, the disorder occurs rarely in children. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) has identified cases of TMJ in infants, children and adolescents. One study has reported that 4.2% of adolescents aged 12-19 years reported TMD pain while another epidemiological study found 25% of 4,724 children ages 5-17 suffered of TMJ disorder symptoms.
TMD symptoms occur at a higher rate in females with onset of puberty. Females the age of 16-19 have reported missing school or taking pain medication as a result of TMD pain and under 10% of males of the same age reported the pain causing these issues.
What is TMJ?
Many people still don’t even really know what TMJ stands for, let alone the fact that there is a disorder related to it. We each have two temporomandibular joints, — one in front of each ear — that connect the lower jawbone to the skull. These joints allow the jaw to move up and down, side to side and back and forth, allowing us to bite, chew, talk and swallow.
Scientists believe that the TMJ begins to develop in utero within 13 weeks of conception, and the joint continued to develop throughout the first 10 years of your child’s life. That continued development is why an injury to the jaw can be a risk factor for TMJ disorder.
The TMJ and the muscles and tendons that surround it continue to grow and strengthen throughout the pre-teen and teen years. Studies suggest that TMJ symptoms can increase with age, and they can be especially notable in teen girls after the onset of puberty. In general, women experience tmj prevalently. In fact the ratio of women and TMJ is 9 to 1 compared to men over their lifetime.
You can locate your child’s TMJ by placing your index finger on the triangular section in front of your child’s ear. While your child opens and closes her jaw all the way, move your finger just slightly forward and press firmly. The motion you feel is in the TMJ.
With a normally functioning TMJ, this procedure should not cause your child any discomfort. If your child is bothered by it, however, it reveals a strong likelihood of TMJ dysfunction.
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What causes TMJ in children?
Childhood TMJ pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress or injury. Other contributing factors can include bad habits like chewing on non-food items such as pencils, fingernails or ice. Changes in your child’s bite or very misaligned teeth may cause extra stress on the TMJ and lead to symptoms of TMD. Poor posture, poor diet and even a lack of sleep also can be associated with TMJ disorder in kids.
What are treatment options?
The majority of TMJ cases in children respond well to non-invasive treatments. Helping your child to limit certain hard foods, such as hard candy, and chewing gum can lessen symptoms greatly by relieving stress on the jaw joint and supporting muscles.
Gentle massages around the jaw muscles also can provide relief as can the use of warm, moist heat or cold packs on the painful areas of the jaw.
If your child is grinding or clenching her teeth, your dentist may recommend a TMJ mouth guard as a preventive measure. Sometimes a realignment of the bite is needed.
If TMJ pain is affecting your child’s way of life – perhaps making it difficult for them to eat, to sleep or to talk – it is time to seek the advice of a professional. A neuromuscular dentist with a special focus in TMJ will review your child’s medical history, thoroughly examine your child’s mouth and jaw and take x-rays in order to make a diagnosis and to recommend treatment. Your child’s dentist will consider surgery only as a last resort.
The good news is that when a bad bite that causes TMJ pain is resolved in children, it usually is not a recurring problem.
What are TMJ symptoms?
When something interferes with the proper movement of the TMJ, one or more of the following symptoms can result