Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a joint disorder that mainly affects the jaw bone, hindering its mobility and affecting activities such as chewing, yawning, and singing. For most people who are affected by it, symptoms are acute and present themselves in mild forms; daily activities can be carried out without being affected, and symptoms will disappear within a few weeks. For others, however, symptoms related to TMD can become chronic to the point where the pain becomes paralyzing. In these cases, it is imperative to seek medical attention. Treatments for TMD vary, depending on the level of pain, and include methods such as pain medication, splints, and night guards. More persistent cases may require surgery.
Many people probably consider TMD an “old person” disease, but the fact is, according to recent research, children (defined as anyone under the legal age) are more likely to get TMD in comparison to adults.
The adolescent years come with a lot of change. Bodily changes – physically and hormonally – in addition to maturation in thinking and a desire for independence, can cause a lot of stress, which is a major cause of TMD. There is, therefore, an increase in the potential for a teenager to develop TMD.
Bruxism, or teeth grinding and clenching, is prevalent in children. Though this is often caused by stress, in children, it is more likely used as a coping mechanism to treat ear pain and even when teething. Statistically, as many as 38% of children have a form of bruxism. Some research suggests that bruxism is hereditary, but most children manage to outgrow the condition.
These statistics and causes show how TMD is more prevalent in children than in adults. While some children naturally outgrow the disorder, treatments used with children include braces and curbing bad habits that increase the chances of developing TMJ, such as sucking thumbs and excessive use of pacifiers.
If the condition is not successfully treated in childhood, different measures will have to be taken in adulthood.