Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD) Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

What is the temporomandibular joint?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located at the spot where the lower jaw meets the base of the skull. The muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint work together to allow it to move. The health of those surrounding muscles and ligaments—and the health and position of your child’s teeth—all contribute to the proper alignment and functioning of the TMJ. 

TMD can arise because of over-exertion of your child’s TMJ. Some examples of conditions that can cause this over-exertion are high levels of stress or anxiety, grinding or clenching of the teeth, or trauma to the jaw. 

This is a common problem, and it can often be treated at home. More severe cases of TMD may require physical therapy, dental treatments or surgery. 

Who develops TMD?

Children and adolescents are more likely to develop TMD as a result of stress or trauma to the jaw. In younger children, congenital jaw deformities can lead to TMD.


Causes 

TMD can be caused by several factors:

  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Trauma to the jaw or the joint
  • Muscle spasms
  • Misalignment of the jaw (malocclusion)
  • Arthritis


Signs and symptoms 

If your child has any of the following symptoms, you may want to check with a doctor: 

  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Difficulty closing the mouth
  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw fatigue
  • Ear aches or ringing in the ear
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Popping or clicking of the joint, along with pain
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Asymmetrical jaw opening
  • Uneven vertical or lateral movements of the jaw
  • Pain when touching the TMJ
  • Swelling around the TMJ
  • Jaw asymmetry or malocclusion


What sort of treatment will my child need?

Treatment depends on the severity of your child’s condition. It ranges from range-of-motion jaw exercises and medications to physical therapy, joint injections and/or surgery. 

Long-term outlook

If your child’s symptoms are mild, home care and anti-inflammatory medications can help. If the condition is more severe, physical therapy, dental treatments or joint surgery may be needed.

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