Though it’s true that TMJ disorder is more prevalent in adults than in children, there are certain habits that, if left unchecked, may cause a child to develop this disorder or other jaw problems. If your child is displaying some symptoms of TMJ disorder — including clicking or popping sounds in their jaw when they speak and chew, jaw tenderness or tension headaches — the following list, compiled by Dr. Ivan Stein, can help prevent your child from developing this disorder, or from making it worse.
Prevent Teeth Grinding with a Mouth Guard
Teeth grinding (or bruxism), when done on a regular basis, can trigger TMJ disorder. Parents may be alerted to their child grinding their teeth, particularly at night, because they or a sibling who sleeps in the same room can hear it. Often, children grind their teeth because their top and bottom teeth don’t align properly, or because they are in pain due to another factor, such as an earache or teething. Talk to your family dentist about getting a mouth guard for your child to wear at night; these are custom-fitted retainers made of plastic that will prevent the child from grinding their teeth or clenching their jaw at night.
No More Thumb Sucking or Gum Chewing
Typical childhood habits like thumb sucking and chewing gum can contribute to your child forming what is called a “bad bite” (or malocclusion), where the teeth don’t meet evenly when the mouth is closed, and there is uneven pressure on the jaw and its joints as a result. A bad bite will not improve on its own and, if left untreated over time, may cause TMJ disorder. When a child sucks his or her thumb for a prolonged period of time, the teeth are gradually pushed out of alignment. This, in turn, may the teeth to protrude or cause an overbite. And regular gum chewing causes imbalance of the jaw muscles, which is a contributing factor to TMJ disorder.
Talk to Your Dentist about Fixing a Bad Bite
Misaligned teeth as a result of gaps or misshapen teeth that don’t fit together to form an even bite can contribute to jaw problems down the line, including TMJ disorder. Over time, uneven chewing or biting will put uneven pressure on different parts of the jaw and its joints, which often causes the jaw to become misaligned. Other tooth problems like cavities can be a contributing factor to a misaligned bite, as your child may favor one side of their mouth to avoid pain while chewing. To fix dental factors that contribute to your child’s bad bite, talk to your doctor to find out your surgical and non-surgical options.
Have Them Checked by a Professional
The best way to treat TMJ in children is to prevent it from happening in the first place, of course. By avoiding the habits listed above and helping your child to properly manage their anxiety and stress (also a major cause of teeth grinding and jaw clenching in both adults and children), this can go a long way in keeping TMJ at bay. If, however, your child is complaining of jaw pain or is displaying other TMJ symptoms, schedule an appointment to have them evaluated by Dr. Ivan F. Stein at Headache and TMJ Center of New Jersey. Call (855) TMJ-DOCS or (855) 865-3627 today.