My Child Has Jaw Pain, How to Detect TMJ

A child with TMJ

Share This Post

Temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are part of your child’s mouth. They connect your child’s lower jaw to the skull.  It is the TMJ joints that permit your child’s jaw to move. 

The TMJ joints are on both sides of your mouth and include bone, ligaments, and muscle. You can show your child the TMJ joints. Just help them put their fingers just in front of their ears as they open and close their jaw. They should be able to feel the joints moving. Violà! You and your child have found the TMJ joints!

“TMJ disorders are most prevalent among teenage girls, but can occur in children at just about any age,” says Dr. Lela Farmer, lead pediatric dentist at Scuba Smile for Kids in north central San Antonio.

The disorder can surface among children with a bad bite, arthritis, some kind of jaw trauma, and even stress. It’s important to identify these kinds of issues as soon as possible. 

7 Telltale Symptoms of TMJ

The symptoms in children are similar to that of adults.

  1. If your child tells you that their jaw is clicking or popping, or if they have intense jaw pain when chewing or even some facial pain, pay attention. 
  1. Watch for pain around the facial muscles, and even near your child’s ears. Pain can even creep toward the shoulders and neck. 
  1. Stress can contribute to a TMJ disorder. Anxiety about a test at school or stress about upcoming school events can create jaw tension and discomfort. Teaching your child to manage stress can often help sidestep TMJ problems in the future. 
  1. Complaints about persistent dizziness can be a sign of a potential TMJ issue.
  1. Headaches that appear often can be a sign of a TMJ problem. 
  1. Keep an eye out for swelling around the jaw area and even pain to the touch.  
  1. Your child may even complain about constant pain during the normal act of eating a meal or just while talking. 

When to Call the Dentist

It’s not uncommon for someone to experience some stiffness or a sore jaw.  Those kinds of things usually go away in a short amount of time. But if you hear about symptoms over a long period of time or if your child is complaining about severe jaw pain that’s not going away, that’s when it may be time to call your dentist to see about a possible TMJ problem. 

“The sooner you can identify a TMJ issue with your child, the sooner we can diagnose the exact problem and begin to relieve the discomfort,” says Dr. Farmer

Expect your child’s dentist to have a lot of questions for you, and they may want to have your child get new X-rays, a CT scan, or even an MRI, depending on your discussion.  

If for some reason your child’s jaw ends up locked open or locked shut, that will be the time for you to bring your child to a hospital emergency room.

6 Treatment options

  1. Ice packs on the face may provide your child with pain relief. 
  2. Offering your child softer foods that are easier to chew can be a good, temporary solution for pain relief. Also, make sure they avoid chewing gum. Gum can certainly aggravate painful symptoms. 
  3. Sometimes the answer is as simple as giving the jaw a rest. 
  4. Pain medication can be used to help alleviate pain. But, you should always discuss this option with your child’s dentist first.  
  5. Your dentist may want to fit your child for a biteplate or some device to wear at night to help reduce the clenching and grinding of their teeth. 
  6. If the problem is found to be in your child’s bite, braces or other dental work may be suggested as a way to overcome the issue. 

Your child does not have to live with a painful and uncomfortable TMJ disorder. Proper diagnosis and treatment can make your child pain-free and happier as they navigate their lives at home and at school! 

Scuba Smiles is always here to help you if you think a TMJ disorder is about to be a problem for your child. We can help the pain disappear.