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The Importance of Early Diagnosis of TMJ in Children and Teens

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems can begin in childhood and are common among adolescents. TMJ is a term that refers to disorders that affect the muscles and joints in the jaw and the surrounding area. It may cause discomfort and pain, and can even interfere with normal everyday activities. One of the most important steps for parents and caregivers is to be aware of the signs of TMJ in children and teens, and understand the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.

What are the Symptoms of TMJ?

There are several symptoms associated with TMJ. These can include jaw pain, difficulty opening and closing the mouth, a clicking or popping sound when the jaw is moved, a feeling of stiffness in the jaw, and an inability to open the mouth fully. Some children and adolescents may also experience headaches or earaches. In some cases, the findings from a thorough examination by a medical professional may reveal tenderness in the jaw muscles, difficulty chewing, or even swelling in the lower part of the face.

What Causes TMJ?

Exact causes of TMJ are not always clear, but there are some factors that have been commonly associated with increased risk of development of the condition. These can include trauma to the area, like a head injury or a whiplash, or chronic clenching of the teeth, sucking the thumb or tongue, teeth grinding (particularly during the night) or the overuse of the jaw due to playing or singing.

The Importance of Early Treatment

TMJ can be a very frustrating and uncomfortable condition, but there is much that can be done to provide relief. The most important step for parents and caregivers is to be sure to seek medical care if they suspect a child or teen has the condition. This is because early diagnosis and treatment has been associated with better outcomes. A doctor, oral or maxillofacial surgeon, or a dentist with experience in the area of TMJ can help diagnose the condition and develop an appropriate treatment plan. This may include exercises to help reduce tension in the jaw, or a mouth appliance to minimize the effects of teeth grinding. In more severe cases, medications or surgery might be necessary.

Other Tips to Help Minimize Symptoms

In addition to medical care, there are some other things that parents can do to help minimize the effects of TMJ. This can include teaching children and teens to practice good posture and to avoid activities that might overuse the jaw. Chewing gum and eating hard or sticky foods should also be avoided, as they can cause stress to the muscles surrounding the jaw. Heat packs or a warm, moist towel placed on the jaw can help to ease the discomfort associated with the condition.

The Bottom Line

TMJ is a common condition that can cause a lot of frustration and discomfort. However, with early diagnosis and the appropriate treatment, the symptoms can be managed effectively. It’s important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs of the condition and to take an active role in getting children and teens to medical care as soon as a problem is suspected. Additionally, teaching children and teens some simple tips to minimize the effects of TMJ can be helpful. With the right approach, most children and teens can look forward to a full recovery and a return to normal activities.