For many of us, the first signs of TMD (temporomandibular disorder) show up well into adulthood. Numerous studies have shown the older a person becomes, the higher their chances are of developing TMJ pain and other temporomandibular joint disorders. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t occur in childhood.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) has found cases of TMJ pain in children as young as infants. While it is extremely rare, there are instances of TMD development in young children and teens.
There are numerous causes for childhood TMJ pain, including stress. As the new school year gets underway, now is the time to monitor your child’s behavior to make sure stress and other issues aren’t leading them down a path to permanent TMJ disorders.
TMJ Development in Children
Clinical reports have noted the TMJ begins to develop just 6-7 weeks after conception. The main components of the TMJ continue to form and develop at a significant rate during the first 10 years of life. This is why injury to the jaw that could impede or alter development is a serious risk factor for childhood TMD.
Even though the TMJ continues to develop at a much slower pace from age 10 to 20, the mandibular condyle can change significantly during this period. The muscles and tendons around the jaw region continue growing and strengthening throughout the pre-teen and teen years.
Because a child’s jaw is still growing and forming, treating TMD in young patients can be tricky. It is imperative any TMJ problems are addressed immediately so corrective steps can be taken to potentially halt the progression and relieve the symptoms.
Symptoms and Signs of Childhood TMD
Because childhood and adolescent TMD is not common, the condition is often misdiagnosed or missed altogether. The fact TMD symptoms can be very similar to a host of other conditions adds to the problem. Signs of childhood TMD can include:
- Pain in the jaw region on both or just one side
- Ongoing, frequent, or constant facial pain
- Clicking and other sounds during jaw movement
- Tender lateral pterygoid muscle
- Muscle tenderness during and after eating
- Frequent headaches and/or migraines
- Earaches on their own, or in conjunction with a headache and no present infection
- Ringing or buzzing in the ears
- Lockjaw or difficulty opening and closing the mouth – this is one of the more prevalent symptoms of TMJ issues
- Malocclusion – the teeth do not properly align
- Trauma in the chin/jaw/head/neck region – injury is one of the leading causes of TMD development in children. If your child has suffered an injury and exhibits other symptoms, there is a good possibility they have developed TMD
- Poor posture – posture can have an effect on occlusion and subsequently TMJ development
Just as with adults, stress is a major contributing factor in the development of TMJ problems in children. Stress can trigger involuntary physical reactions such as bruxism, which is the act of clenching or grinding your teeth. If your child grinds or clenches their teeth while awake or asleep, this puts strain on the TMJ and can cause pain and other symptoms. Studies suggest that symptoms increase with age, and are most notable in girls after the onset of puberty.
If your child is experiencing any symptoms of a TMJ disorder or risk factors that contribute to TMD, it is important to schedule an evaluation with a dentist who is experienced in diagnosing TMD. Evaluating and treating young patients requires even more expertise and skill because the anatomy of the TMJ is still developing.
Clinics like MedCenter TMJ were developed to address issues of TMD in patients of all ages. Dr. Auvenshine and Dr. Pettit have invested in cutting-edge diagnostic tools that can thoroughly evaluate the TMJ to identify the underlying causes of pain. Dr. Auvenshine draws upon decades of experience when creating a TMD treatment plan, utilizing the least invasive options whenever possible.
If you live in the Houston area and would like to learn more, schedule an appointment online or by phone.