Almost everyone, including children, experiences soreness and discomfort in the jaw from time to time, and most times these symptoms fade and disappear in a few short days. Those other few instances where the pain lingers and increases should raise alarm for parents. Continued soreness and tightness in the jaw as well as difficulty chewing, smiling and even breathing are all symptoms of TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, disorder.
The TMJ is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. Overuse or irritation to the joint can result in headaches, neck aches, and jaw or face pain, problems chewing or biting, popping and clicking sounds when opening and closing the mouth and extreme cases cause the jaw to lock open or closed. TMJ can occur to anyone at any age, but is especially prevalent in teenage girls.
Unfortunately, it is often unclear what causes TMJ disorders in children. Contributing factors include can include: stress, clenching or grinding of the jaw or other oral or overall health issues. Stress frequently results in the grinding or tightening of the jaw in children. Many do not even realize they are doing it as it becomes habit. Also, if your child has a bad bite, muscles problems or has had face or jaw trauma, they are more likely to experience the discomfort or TMJ.
Thankfully, there are many treatment options to relieve the pain of TMJ disorder. The simplest fix, depending on the severity of the condition, is to encourage your child to rest their jaw for a few days. You can assist in this by having soft foods for meals and snacks, and discouraging aggravating activities such as gum chewing, open-mouth yawning and clenching or grinding. Also apply ice or hear as needed to relieve pain temporarily. For the more involved cases, further treatment will need to be explored. Dentists may provide a device for your child to wear at night to minimize grinding or prescribe medication to relax the jaw muscles. Braces or corrective dentistry may be needed if the disorder is stemming from a misaligned bite. Rarely, surgery will be recommended.
To help your child avoid TMJ disorder, bring to their attention bad grinding or clenching habits. The habits often coincide with certain behaviors – being upset, studying for tests, etc – so teach your child to pinpoint their trigger behaviors so they can consciously combat the bad habits. Allowing plenty of time for exercise and play will also help keep stress levels down.
If you think your child is exhibiting symptoms of TMJ, contact a local dentist today. The earlier TMJ can be treated, the better.