teenager holding sports mouthguard

TMJ Disorders and Your Teen

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. It is the joint that connects the mandible (lower jaw) to the rest of the skull. Did you know that TMJ disorders are more common in teenage girls vs boys? There are a variety of symptoms depending on the type of TMJ disorder, so let’s dive in.

Types of TMJ Disorders

When the jaw muscles are overworked or infected it can lead to a TMJ disorder, the most common being known as lockjaw. The disorders range in severity and can present as chronic headaches, clicking sounds when moving the lower jaw, earaches, and more.

Degenerative Joint Disease

The jaw can suffer from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, which is a form of degenerative joint disease. 

Internal Joint Derangement

If the jaw is dislocated, it’s known as internal joint derangement. Teens can also suffer from displaced discs in the jaw, where the mandible connects to the skull. 

Myofascial Pain

Under our skin is a layer of fascia, which is a connective tissue that holds our insides together. When our mandible is overworked or infected, it can lead to myofascial pain. This term describes the discomfort felt in our internal, connective tissue as a result of muscles in the jaw, neck, and shoulder being in distress.

Trismus (Lockjaw)

When the jaw muscles spasm, it can lock the jaw closed or opened. Limited range of motion for the mandible is called trismus, or lockjaw. It can be caused by tetanus or another oral infection, as well as by excessive inflammation of oral soft tissue.

Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder in Kids

It can be hard for children, and even teens, to tell their parents about their symptoms. And, it can be even harder still for parents to put the puzzle pieces together and determine the cause. If your child is complaining of a combination of any of the following symptoms, it could be a TMJ problem.

  • Dizziness
  • Clenching teeth (during the day or night)
  • Clicking or popping jaw
  • Limited range of motion in the jaw
  • Misalignment of the upper and lower jaw
  • Numb fingertips
  • Headaches (including neck, jaw, or face)
  • Sore jaw
  • Tinnitus (ringing ears)

An exam with a pediatric dentist can help determine if these symptoms are being caused by a problem with the temporomandibular joint. The dentist will most likely ask your child if they experience pain or noise when moving their jaw and may conduct x-rays, CT scans, or an MRI to get an inside look.

Treating TMJ Disorders in Children

If your child doesn’t have an infection, the TMJ disorder may be treated with some small changes to your routine.

  • Alternate hot and cold compresses on your child’s sore muscles
  • Change to a soft-food diet for a few days
  • Correct misalignment with orthodontia or other dental work
  • Get your child fitted for a mouthguard for sleeping

When a TMJ disorder is caused by something like a tetanus infection, your child will be prescribed an antibiotic. To help with the spasms, a muscle relaxer may also be prescribed for temporary use. 

Since you may not know whether your child’s jaw problems are being caused by an infection, it’s important to see a pediatric dentist at any sign of distress to prevent the problem from getting worse. Left untreated, an oral infection can not only be painful for your child, but it can lead to other complications with their health.

Preventing TMJ Disorders

Thankfully, you can prevent many TMJ disorders from ever happening to your child. Proper oral care can help ward off infections, and behavioral changes can make a difference as well.

Stress Management

Often, children don’t know how to handle stress in healthy ways until they’re taught. This can lead to tantrums, grinding their teeth at night, or even just clenching their jaw during the day. Give your teen the tools they need to deal with stress and prevent them from overworking their jaw muscles.

Improve Posture

Proper posture can also help prevent TMJ disorders. Driving, sitting at a desk, or using a cell phone throughout the day can negatively affect a teen’s posture. Make sure your child has an ergonomic chair, limited screen time, and plenty of exercise to help improve their posture throughout the day. 

Sports Mouthguard

In addition to a night mouthguard, your teen might benefit from wearing one while playing contact sports. 

If you have any questions about TMJ, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with the team at Timpanogos Pediatric Dentistry.


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