When parents think of pediatric dental issues their kids might suffer from, the basics tend to come to mind. Cavities, gingivitis, and similar things occupy their thoughts. That’s probably the case with you, too. After all, those are the issues that are mostly talked about.
However, there are other issues that can pop up that are more serious or lead to various dental issues in children.
One of those is TMJ.
Pediatric TMJ disorders occur fairly often, and you should be aware of what they are, how to identify them, and what to do if your child shows signs of a TMJ disorder.
Today, we’re going to help you do just that and teach you what to do for TMJ.
Let’s get started!
TMJ Disorders and What Do They Cause?
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This is the joint that connects the lower mandible to the rest of the skull, and it allows people to move their mouths freely.
A TMJ disorder is one of several issues that can afflict the TMJ and cause a variety of oral issues.
Typically, the TMJ disorder you have to worry about is overstressing the TMJ. Like any other part of your child’s body, the TMJ needs to be able to rest, rejuvenate, and generally maintain itself. Think of your elbow. If you’re constantly doing a repetitive movement, eventually, it stiffens up and produces several different problems that affect your general ability to do things. Your TMJ is the same way.
However, there are more serious TMJ issues that can be caused by injuries, deformities, or untreated long-term TMJ stress. For the most part, you’ll know it’s time to get help for the first two, but preventing long-term problems is why you need to learn to identify symptoms.
A TMJ disorder can cause a lot of issues in children. Some are relatively minor, but some can be extremely problematic.
We’ll list the most common problems along with the more serious symptoms now.
First, some degree of pain is likely to accompany any TMJ disorder. The TMJ can’t articulate properly, it’s stressed, and it generally causes a bit of soreness at the very least. In more severe circumstances, the pain can be hard for your child to bear.
2: Teeth Alignment
This is a potentially long-term issue. Since the TMJ isn’t positioning itself correctly, the alignment of the jaw changes. This can make the teeth shift, grow improperly, or otherwise get pushed out of alignment.
This is something that can affect everyone, but since your child’s teeth are still growing and arranging themselves, this can be even more of an issue. If left unchecked, braces might be necessary, and even if it’s not that serious, the pain involved and general dental imperfections are long-lasting.
3: Jaw Locking
This is one of the more severe issues to deal with. Unfortunately, in more serious cases of TMJ disorder, the joint can freeze up and refuse to move at all. Your child’s jaw might be stuck open, or more commonly, it might lock itself shut. When that happens, every aspect of your child’s life is affected.
Most obviously, your child will have trouble speaking, eating, or moving their mouth in general. However, it can also be a fairly traumatic experience for your child since they don’t understand what’s going on, and their jaw suddenly being locked can be a scary experience.
What Symptoms to Look for with TMJ Disorders
Unfortunately, detecting a TMJ disorder in your child can be difficult depending on their age and how good they are at communicating when something doesn’t feel right.
With older children who know how to communicate things such as headaches and similar problems, it’s a lot easier, but here are the symptoms to look for if that’s not the case.
1: Popping and Clicking
Even if your child doesn’t speak well yet, this can be a dead giveaway that they’re having a TMJ issue. As the TMJ becomes stressed, it can start to pop and crack when your child moves their jaw.
If you notice that your child is demonstrating pain or they’re capable of describing pain, try to listen closely as they move their mouth. If their jaw is popping or clicking, they likely have a TMJ disorder.
2: Describing Pain or Acting in Pain
The easiest way to get to the bottom of it is if your child is describing pain in the region in front of the lower ear on both sides. That’s where they’ll start to feel the TMJ disorder before it starts to create other issues. If your child isn’t able to communicate, look for common signs that they’re experiencing pain. They can stop eating as much, get lethargic, frequently touch their face and jaw, have trouble sleeping, and have similar symptoms.
Unfortunately, children who can’t communicate often show those symptoms for a variety of reasons. So, you might need to narrow it down to a TMJ issue by using our other tips.
3: Unable to Move the Jaw
This is probably the most alarming symptom of a TMJ disorder. Although, it’s usually far less serious than it seems. If your child suddenly can’t open or close their jaw, they’re dealing with a TMJ disorder, and it’s likely one that has persisted for a while.
How to Avoid TMJ Disorders in Kids
TMJ disorders seem like they might pop up spontaneously, but they’re actually caused by common things you might not think about.
Here are some of the things you need to identify your child doing and avoid those behaviors going forward, to prevent TMJ disorders.
1: Teeth Grinding
If your child is grinding their teeth, it’s something that mustn’t be ignored. The best course of action is to seek help from a pediatric dentistry specialist to stop the teeth-grinding habits as soon as possible.
Grinding teeth doesn’t just break down the teeth or cause them to shift, though. The intense and constant pressure put on the jaw while your child grinds their teeth can wear out the TMJ and cause a TMJ disorder.
With older children who are a little more aware of their behaviors, this shouldn’t be too difficult. However, if communication isn’t possible, or your child is grinding their teeth unwillingly, such as when they’re sleeping, it might be necessary to get an overnight mouthpiece that stops the grinding motion.
2: Too Much Chewy Food
If your child is eating a lot of food that requires them to chew more than they should, it can cause a TMJ disorder. The repetitive motion, and higher exertion of force, used to chew through overly tough foods or chewy candies can stress the TMJ beyond its limits. Typically, when this is the case, the child will start feeling a bit of soreness or tiredness in the jaw before it becomes a bigger issue.
It’s not necessary to fully remove these foods from your child’s diet, but try to limit their intake to keep from stressing the jaw too much.
3: Not Allowing the Jaw to Rest
Whether they’re talking far too much, constantly grazing on chewy snacks, or doing anything else that causes the jaw to constantly be moving, the end result is that the jaw isn’t capable of properly resting.
We’ll talk about this more shortly, but the jaw needs to rest regularly to allow the TMJ to relax and normalize, or a TMJ disorder can occur.
4: Maintain Teeth Alignment
The way your child’s teeth are aligned can cause a TMJ disorder. If they force the jaw into an awkward position or require it to extend more than it would naturally have to due to the positioning of the teeth, then the jaw will get stressed with far less activity than it would normally need before symptoms occur.
Keeping an eye on your child’s teeth, and making sure you go to regular dental appointments, can help you prevent TMJ disorders.
What to Do About TMJ Disorders in Kids
For the most part, a TMJ issue isn’t a huge deal. However, it can create issues going forward. If left unchecked, it can be a chronic disorder, and in some cases, it can be a major problem for your child.
When you notice a TMJ issue or disorder, here are the various steps you can take to resolve it.
1: Give the Jaw Time to Rest
In the majority of cases, your child isn’t going to have a chronic issue. They probably use their jaw too much or grind their teeth too hard during a stressful time, and their TMJ is overworked.
Dealing with this is simple. They just need to give the jaw time to rest.
Try to give your child softer foods so they can eat without putting pressure on the jaw, minimize talking, and generally try to let the TMJ rest as much as possible for a day or two. In most situations, this will be enough.
2: Use Anti-Inflammatory and Pain Medicine
Over-the-counter medicines can be surprisingly helpful when you’re trying to deal with a temporary TMJ disorder. Anti-inflammatories can help reduce swelling in the joint that causes soreness, and general pain medicines can be helpful.
However, you have to use child-appropriate medications, and this is more of a way to mask the symptoms so your child is comfortable rather than actually dealing with the core cause of the problem.
3: Speak to Your Child’s Dentist
Many parents don’t know what to do for TMJ in kids because they don’t understand the problem itself. But, your child’s dentist can help, since this is a dental problem.
If your child is just dealing with a minor issue after overexerting their jaw, it probably isn’t necessary to set up a dental appointment, and the less serious solutions are likely good enough.
However, if your child demonstrates issues with their TMJ for an extended period, getting a general pediatric dentist’s opinion on the matter can be crucial.
The dentist can identify the root causes of the problem, such as overnight teeth grinding, tooth alignment issues, behaviors that might be causing the TMJ disorder, and similar things, while also providing solutions.
For example, braces might be used to realign the teeth and solve numerous potential problems beyond TMJ soreness, a mouth guard for nighttime might be recommended, and other actions might be taken.
Again, it’s not necessary if there’s just a bit of soreness after your child has done something that could clearly cause a TMJ, but if it’s persistent, a dentist is your best bet.
4: Immediate Medical Attention
TMJ issues also include things such as injuries. We haven’t talked much about serious jaw injuries throughout this because they are usually situations where you will immediately take your child to the hospital.
Jaw breaks, sudden extreme pain in the jaw’s TMJ region, obvious injuries occurring, and other things go well beyond the need to simply rest the jaw or contact a dentist. If it’s an immediate dental emergency, your first priority should be getting the injury checked and treated.
However, many chronic TMJ disorders stem from injuries to the jaw and mouth. So, once the immediate problem is taken care of, getting to the dentist to take preventative action or make sure a TMJ disorder isn’t likely to develop is crucial.
Slight shifts that occur during the healing process of a broken jaw, weakened or scar tissue around the TMJ from various injuries, and other issues might create long-term problems.
5: Avoid Foods That Might Stress the Jaw
If a TMJ disorder is likely to develop, one of the best things you can do is change your child’s diet to avoid stressing their jaw.
This doesn’t mean getting rid of solid foods, but ensuring that meat is tender, giving them softer foods that require little chewing, and avoiding things such as gum or chewy foods, can all help prevent TMJ flare-ups.
Get Help with Your Child’s TMJ Disorder with Dino Dental
While most TMJ issues can be resolved with early detection and a bit of rest, it’s always a good idea to have a pediatric dentist monitoring your child’s oral health to identify problems early, help you avoid oral issues, and provide guidance on what you should do to take action.
If you still aren’t sure what to do for TMJ in kids, Dino Kids Dental has you covered with the best pediatric dentists in the industry and a fun environment that makes visits to the dentist fun.
Schedule an appointment today!