Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ) Symptoms & Causes

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At Children’s Hospital Boston, we understand that you may have many questions when your child is diagnosed with a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).

  • What exactly is it?
  • What are potential complications of my child’s condition?
  • What are the treatments?
  • Are there any possible side effects from treatment?
  • How will it affect my child long term?

We tried to provide some answers to those questions here. When you meet with our experts, we can explain your child’s condition and treatment options fully.

What is the temporomandibular joint?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located at the spot where the lower jaw meets the skull base. 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, which 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.


TMD can be caused by severalfactors:

  • teeth clenching or grinding
  • stress or anxiety
  • trauma to the jaw or the joint
  • muscle spasms
  • misalignment of the jaw (malocclusion)
  • arthritis


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 your joint 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.

Questions to ask your doctor

Many parents are concerned about TMD and can have lots of questions about the condition and how it can affect their child.

You may find it helpful to jot down questions as they arise. When you talk to your doctor, you can be sure that all of your concerns are addressed.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is causing my child’s TMD?
  • Are there any tests we should do to confirm the diagnosis?
  • What can we do at home to help relieve the pain?
  • Will my child have to have surgery?
  • Do the medications you’re prescribing have any significant side effects?
  • Will the symptoms of TMD go away? What is my child’s long-term outlook?
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