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5 Symptoms of TMJ in Kids You Shouldn’t Ignore


The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a hinge joint that connects your jaw to your skull. It allows you to perform essential functions like chewing, talking, and yawning. When problems arise with the TMJ, it can lead to discomfort and pain in children and adults. This condition, known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD), can be concerning for parents.

While some TMJ symptoms in kids may seem minor, it’s essential to be aware of the signs that shouldn’t be ignored. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and ensure your child’s comfort.

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What are the Common Symptoms of TMJ in Kids?

Unlike adults who can easily express their discomfort, recognizing TMJ symptoms in children can be trickier. Here’s a breakdown of the common signs to watch out for:

  • Pain in the Jaw: This is one of the most frequent symptoms of TMJ in children. They might complain of a dull ache or tenderness in the jaw area, especially when chewing, talking, or yawning.
  • Restricted Jaw Movement: Does your child struggle to open their mouth wide? This limited movement, sometimes accompanied by a popping or clicking sound, could indicate a TMJ issue.
  • Facial Pain: Pain associated with TMJ can extend beyond the jaw joint. Children with TMJ might experience headaches, earaches, or general facial discomfort.
  • Tired Facial Muscles: TMJ can cause fatigue and tenderness in the facial muscles. This can manifest as difficulty chewing or tightness in the face.
  • Muscle Spasms: Involuntary muscle contractions in the face or jaw can be a symptom of TMJ in children.
  • Teeth Grinding (Bruxism): Children who grind or clench their teeth, especially at night, are more prone to developing TMJ problems.
  • Changes in Bite: Misalignment of the teeth or jaw can contribute to TMJ and may indicate an underlying condition.

What Causes TMJ in Kids?

The exact cause of TMJ in children can be challenging to pinpoint. However, several factors can contribute to its development:

  • Teeth Grinding: Bruxism, the involuntary grinding or clenching of teeth, can put excessive stress on the jaw joint and muscles, leading to TMJ.
  • Jaw Injury: A blow or trauma to the jaw can damage the TMJ joint and surrounding structures.
  • Stress: While less common in younger children, stress and anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms like teeth grinding and jaw clenching, which can contribute to TMJ.
  • Improper Posture: Poor posture can strain the jaw muscles and joints, potentially leading to TMJ problems.
  • Arthritis: Although less frequent in children, juvenile arthritis can affect the TMJ joint.
  • Misaligned Bite: Structural issues with the jaw or teeth can contribute to TMJ development.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your child, scheduling an appointment with a dentist or pediatrician is crucial. Early diagnosis and intervention can help manage TMJ effectively and prevent potential complications. Here are some specific instances where seeking professional help is essential:

  • Persistent Pain: If your child experiences persistent pain in the jaw, face, or ear, regardless of severity, a professional evaluation is necessary.
  • Limited Jaw Movement: Difficulty opening or closing the mouth comfortably warrants a visit to the dentist or pediatrician.
  • Locking Jaw: In rare cases, TMJ can cause the jaw to lock in a closed or open position. This is a medical emergency, and you should seek immediate medical attention.

Treatment Options for TMJ in Kids

Fortunately, TMJ in children often responds well to conservative treatment methods. Here’s an overview of common approaches:

  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage discomfort associated with TMJ.
  • Relaxation Techniques: Teaching your child relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation can help reduce stress and muscle tension, which can contribute to TMJ symptoms.
  • Soft Diet: A soft diet that minimizes strain on the jaw joint can be recommended during flare-ups of TMJ pain.
  • Mouth Guards: Nightguards worn during sleep can help prevent teeth grinding and protect the TMJ joint.
  • Physical Therapy: Physical therapy exercises can help strengthen and stretch the facial muscles, improve jaw function, and reduce pain.
  • Addressing Underlying Causes: If teeth grinding or misaligned bite contributes to TMJ, orthodontic treatment or other dental interventions may be necessary.

Preventing TMJ in Kids

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent TMJ in children, certain practices can help reduce the risk:

  • Stress Management: Helping your child manage stress through relaxation techniques, regular exercise, and open communication can be highly beneficial.
  • Good Posture: Encouraging good posture habits can help reduce strain on the jaw joint and muscles.
  • Dental Care: Regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene are crucial for identifying potential dental issues contributing to TMJ.
  • Addressing Teeth Grinding: If your child grinds their teeth, talk to your dentist about using a mouthguard to protect the jaw joint.


TMJ in children can indeed be a cause for concern, but early diagnosis and treatment can ensure effective management and prevent complications. By being aware of the symptoms and potential causes, you can play a proactive role in your child’s oral health and well-being. If you notice any signs of TMJ in your child, such as jaw pain or difficulty chewing or clicking sounds, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a Kids’ Dentist in Boca Raton or a pediatrician for proper evaluation and treatment.

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