Although temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders aren’t common in children, they can
develop particularly as children get older. The TMJ actually begins to develop during the first
trimester of pregnancy and continues to develop throughout the child’s first ten years of life.
The joint continues to grow throughout these years, coming into its adult position sometime
during the teenage years. This is a common time period for children or parents to realize a TMJ
disorder may be present.
Problems with the TMJ are particularly pronounced in females. Symptoms can increase as the
child gets older, so seeking treatment as soon as possible is important. What TMJ treatment
options are available for children?
Identifying the Root Cause
First, your child’s dentist will need to identify the root cause of their TMJ pain in order to
implement effective treatment. There are numerous causes for pain in this complex joint,
An injury to the jaw
Chewing on hard objects such as pencils, ice, or hard candy
An improper bite
Fortunately, many of these causes of TMJ disorders respond relatively well to treatments that
are non-invasive. Once your dentist has identified the cause of your child’s discomfort, you can
then discuss treatment options.
There are a few non-invasive treatments you can try under the guidance of your dentist to help
alleviate your child’s TMJ pain. Although some TMJ disorders can only be managed rather than
corrected, others can have a more permanent solution.
One non-invasive treatment is a TMJ appliance. A TMJ appliance can reduce teeth clenching or
grinding which can help alleviate symptoms, especially if the root cause is found to be stress or
These appliances (which may also be called TMJ splints) may help reduce stress placed on the
TMJ or help gently move your child’s bite into position if an improper bite is found to be the
If your child is grinding their teeth, either a TMJ splint or a mouthguard will be needed to help
curb the damage. You can also limit hard foods, use warm or cold packs on the affected area, or
employ the help of physical therapy or even massage to help stop your child’s TMJ discomfort.
Orthodontics and Surgery
If your child has a misaligned bite that’s been determined to be causing their TMJ pain, they
may need orthodontics to fully correct the problem. Your dentist will refer you to an
orthodontist if a TMJ splint won’t work for your child’s particular case, or orthodontics are
needed for a more permanent solution.
In rare cases, surgery may be needed to correct the jaw’s position and alleviate pain. Surgery is
typically only considered as a last resort, but may be needed if your child has a severe bite
problem or a jaw injury.
Watch out for signs that your child is experiencing TMJ pain. They may complain that it hurts
when they chew, speak, or yawn. Your child may even complain that the sides of their face hurt
or that their teeth hurt. A thorough evaluation by your child-friendly dentist can determine the
problem and help implement a solution!