Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders encompass problems with the joints that connect your jaw to your skull on either side of your head. These joints can be affected by arthritis, inflammation and even a misaligned bite. Millions of people suffer from problems associated with TMJ disorders, which can lead to chronic jaw pain, among other symptoms. But can children have TMJ? The answer may surprise you!
The Answer Is Yes!
Although it’s more common in teens and adults, children can experience symptoms of TMJ . Children can also have similar triggers and symptoms as adults when it comes to disorders of the temporomandibular joints.
These symptoms can include difficulty opening and closing the mouth, jaw pain, earaches, headaches, and popping or clicking when moving the jaw. In more severe cases, the jaw may actually get stuck in a certain position, also called lockjaw.
Child TMJ Risk Factors
There are a few things that can increase your child’s risk for TMJ disorders. These include:
- Teeth grinding or jaw clenching
- Jaw deformities
- Trauma, such as an injury, to the jaw 
- Malocclusion (a misaligned bite)
- Overexertion of the jaw, such as chewing gum frequently
Your child’s dentist can review your child’s oral health and ask questions to determine if your child could suffer from TMJ, and help you put an effective treatment plan in place.
How Is TMJ in Children Treated?
Treatment for temporomandibular joint disorders in children is similar to that of adults in the respect that conservative treatments are typically tried first. Your child may simply need to reduce stress on their jaw for several days, which may include eating softer foods, not chewing gum, and applying ice or heat.
If your child grinds their teeth, which can irritate the temporomandibular joints, they may need additional treatment to stop teeth grinding. Physical therapy and relaxation techniques can also help TMJ discomfort, especially by helping your child notice when they are stressed or upset, which could influence jaw clenching and teeth grinding .
Your child’s dentist may also suggest that you follow up with an orthodontist to determine if treatment is needed to help alleviate TMJ pain. A misaligned bite can influence your child’s risk for TMJ, so orthodontics can help correct a bite issue that may improve jaw function.
In more severe cases, medication or surgery may be recommended. However, your dentist will likely recommend home care techniques first, depending on what could be causing your child’s TMJ symptoms.
Does Your Child Have Symptoms of TMJ?
With the discomfort TMJ disorders can cause, this isn’t an issue to ignore, especially in children. Without treatment, TMJ symptoms can worsen over time. If your child has symptoms of TMJ, your pediatric dentist can help you make a proper diagnosis and treat the issue so your child can have a pain-free smile!