temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)

Does physical therapy help temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) in children?

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in managing the symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) in children. TMJ disorder refers to a condition affecting the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement. It can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty in performing everyday activities like eating and speaking. While temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ can affect individuals of all ages, children may experience unique challenges, making early intervention and physical therapy essential.

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in managing temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) in children, offering non-invasive techniques to alleviate symptoms and improve jaw function.

What is temporomandibular joint dysfunction in children?

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) in children is a condition that affects the jaw joint, causing pain, clicking, popping, or grinding sounds in the jaw, as well as difficulty opening or closing the mouth.


Here are some of the most common symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ in children:

  1. Pain in the jaw, face, or neck
  2. Clicking, popping, or grinding sounds in the jaw
  3. Difficulty opening or closing the mouth
  4. Headache
  5. Earache
  6. Dizziness


  1. Trauma to the jaw: This can be caused by a fall, injury, or even dental procedures.
  2. Bruxism (teeth grinding): This is a common habit in children, especially during sleep.
  3. Malocclusion (misalignment of the teeth): This can put extra stress on the jaw joint.
  4. Arthritis: This is a less common cause of TMJ in children, but it can occur.

What is the role of physical therapy in the treatment of temporomandibular joint dysfunction in children?

Role of physical therapy:

When a child struggles with temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ, a physical therapist becomes a key ally. Through a personalized approach, they can offer a range of benefits:

  1. Pain Relief: Gentle manual therapy techniques like massage and mobilization can relax tense muscles and improve joint mobility, easing pain and discomfort.
  2. Improved Range of Motion: Stretching exercises help regain normal jaw movement, reducing clicking and popping sounds.
  3. Strengthening Weak Muscles: Specific exercises for the jaw and neck muscles can improve their ability to support the TMJ, increasing stability and reducing strain.
  4. Posture Education: Poor posture can put undue stress on the TMJ. Physical therapists can teach children proper posture habits to minimize this stress and prevent future problems.
  5. Stress Management: Techniques like relaxation training and biofeedback can help children manage stress, a common trigger for TMJ symptoms.

Advantages of Physical Therapy for Children:

Compared to other treatment options, physical therapy for TMJ in children offers several advantages:

  1. Non-invasive and Safe: No medications or surgeries are involved, minimizing potential side effects.
  2. Tailored Approach: Therapy is customized to each child’s specific needs and preferences.
  3. Empowering the Child: Active participation in therapy gives children a sense of control over their condition.
  4. Long-Term Benefits: Improved posture, muscle strength, and stress management skills can benefit overall health beyond TMJ management.

What are common exercises for temporomandibular joint dysfunction in children?

 Exercises :

Here are a few exercises that you can try with your child to treat temporomandibular joint dysfunction:

Chin tucks:

Chin tuck exercises can be helpful for TMJ pain in children, but it’s important to ensure proper form and avoid any discomfort.

Before you begin:

It’s advisable to consult a pediatrician or dentist familiar with TMJ disorders in children before starting any exercises. They can assess your child’s specific situation and recommend the best course of treatment.

How to perform the chin tuck:

  1. Posture: Have your child sit or stand with good posture, back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Chin tuck: Ask your child to gently place their tongue on the roof of their mouth, behind their upper front teeth.
  3. Tucking the chin: Instruct them to slowly nod their head downward as if tucking their chin towards their chest.  Important: They should only move their head a slight bit, not straining their neck muscles.
  4. Hold and release: Once their chin is tucked slightly,  ask them to hold the position for a few seconds (around 5 seconds is a good starting point). Then, slowly and gently return their head to the upright position.
  5. Repetitions: They can repeat this exercise 10 times, doing 2-3 sets throughout the day.

Key points:

  1. Focus on gentle movement: The chin tuck should be a slow and controlled movement, without any jerking or forceful motions.
  2. Comfort is key: If your child experiences any pain or discomfort during the exercise, stop immediately and consult with their healthcare provider.
  3. Modification for younger children: For younger children who might have difficulty keeping their tongue in position, you can modify the exercise by simply having them tuck their chin slightly without focusing on the tongue placement.

Additional tips:

  1. Warm compress: Applying a warm compress to the jaw area before the exercises can help relax the muscles.
  2. Relaxation techniques: Teaching your child relaxation techniques like deep breathing can also be beneficial for managing TMJ pain.

Jaw opening and closing:

While there are jaw exercises that can help with temporomandibular joint dysfunction   TMJ pain, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional, especially for children.  They can assess the situation and recommend the most appropriate exercises.

Key points:

Here are some general points to keep in mind:

  1. Focus on gentle movements: Avoid forcing the jaw or causing any discomfort.
  2. Incorporate play: Make the exercises fun and engaging for children.

Here’s a simple jaw opening and closing exercise you can try with a child, but be sure to get approval from a healthcare professional first:

Goldfish Exercise

  1. Ask your child to gently press their tongue on the roof of their mouth.
  2. Place one finger on the TMJ (temple area) and another on the chin (for reference, not pressure).
  3. With a relaxed jaw, ask your child to slowly open their mouth as wide as feels comfortable. They can imagine they’re opening their mouth wide like a goldfish.
  4. Encourage them to close their mouth slowly.
  5. Repeat 10 times.


  1. This is just an example, and a healthcare professional can recommend the most suitable exercises for your child’s specific situation.
  2. Always supervise children when they are doing any exercises.

Side-to-side jaw movements:

Side-to-side jaw movements are a natural function of the temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), which is the hinge joint connecting your lower jaw (mandible) to your skull.


These movements are essential for various activities, including:

  1. Chewing: Grinding food into smaller pieces for easier swallowing.
  2. Speaking: Moving your jaw to control the position of your tongue for forming different sounds.
  3. Yawning: Stretching the jaw muscles and allowing more oxygen into the lungs.

How to perform:

You can perform a simple side-to-side jaw movement exercise to improve jaw mobility and potentially relieve temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ pain. Here’s how:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Open your mouth slightly, keeping your teeth slightly apart.
  3. Gently move your jaw from side to side, feeling the stretch in your jaw muscles.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

If you experience any pain during the exercise, stop and consult a healthcare professional.

Tongue exercises:

There are a few tongue exercises that can help relieve temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ pain. These exercises help to relax the jaw muscles and improve joint mobility.

  1. Tongue rest position

Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth. This is the natural resting position for your tongue and can help to relax the jaw muscles.

  1. Tongue sweep

With your tongue in the resting position, slowly sweep your tongue across the roof of your mouth, from front to back. Repeat this motion several times.

  1. Tongue press

Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and press gently upwards. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat this motion several times.

Important notes:

If you experience any pain during these exercises, stop immediately and consult with a healthcare professional.

These exercises are not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you are experiencing TMJ pain, it is important to see a doctor or dentist to determine the underlying cause and get appropriate treatment.

Facial massage:

While facial massage therapy can be helpful for temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ pain in adults, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before attempting it on a child. Here’s why:

  1. Children’s developing bodies: Their muscles and joints are more delicate than adults’. A massage meant for adults might be too strong for a child.
  2. TMJ in children: Causes of temporomandibular joint dysfunction   TMJ pain can differ between adults and children. A dentist or paediatrician can diagnose the cause and recommend the best course of treatment.

Safer alternatives to consider:

  1. A healthcare professional: A paediatrician or dentist can recommend a treatment plan, which might include massage therapy tailored specifically for children.
  2. Self-massage techniques: A healthcare professional can teach your child gentle self-massage techniques for the face and neck to improve circulation and ease tension.

Key points:

If you’re still interested in facial massage for your child, here are some general points to remember:

  1. Always consult a healthcare professional first.
  2. Use very gentle pressure.
  3. Focus on the muscles around the jaw and temples.
  4. Avoid applying pressure directly on the TMJ joint itself

Relaxation techniques for temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) in children:

Children may not always be able to communicate  temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ pain effectively, but some signs to watch out for include difficulty chewing, headaches, earaches, and jaw popping or clicking. Stress is a common trigger for temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ problems, so relaxation techniques can be a great way to help manage symptoms in children. Here are a few techniques you can try:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR):

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) can be a helpful technique for children experiencing TMJ pain, as it can reduce stress that may contribute to jaw clenching. Here’s a guide on how to perform PMR for temporomandibular joint dysfunction TMJ in children:


  1. Find a quiet space: Choose a comfortable and quiet environment where your child can relax without distractions.
  2. Get comfortable: Your child can sit or lie down, whichever feels more comfortable.

How to perform:

Focus on breath: Guide your child to take slow, deep breaths through their nose and exhale slowly through their mouth.

Target muscle groups: Here’s a breakdown of muscle groups to target, focusing on the face and jaw:

  1. Face: Ask your child to scrunch up their face for a few seconds, then relax completely.
  2. Jaw: Tell them to clench their jaw for a few seconds, then open their mouth wide and relax their jaw muscles.
  3. Neck and shoulders: Instruct them to shrug their shoulders up towards their ears, hold, then relax.

Tense and Release: For each muscle group, guide your child to slowly tense the muscles for 5 seconds, then completely relax for 10 seconds. Focus on feeling the difference between tense and relaxed states.

Repeat: Repeat the tensing and releasing for each muscle group 2-3 times.

Making it Fun for Children:

Use visualization: Encourage your child to imagine their muscles melting away like ice cubes as they relax.

  1. Storytelling: Create a story around the PMR exercise. For example, imagine their face muscles are flowers blooming and wilting with each tension and release.
  2. Stuffed animals: Let your child hold a stuffed animal and tense and release its “muscles” along with theirs.

Additional Tips:

  1. Start slow: Begin with short PMR sessions (5-10 minutes) and gradually increase the duration as your child gets comfortable.
  2. Practice regularly: For optimal benefit, aim for daily practice.
  3. Seek guidance: If you’re unsure about performing PMR with your child, consult a healthcare professional or therapist experienced in PMR for children.

Deep Breathing:

Deep breathing can be a helpful tool for managing TMJ dysfunction. When you’re stressed, you tend to clench your jaw, which can worsen TMJ pain. Deep breathing helps to relax the muscles in your jaw and throughout your body, reducing pain and tension.

Here’s a simple deep breathing exercise you can try for TMJ pain relief:

  1. Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down.
  2. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of 4. You should feel your belly rise more than your chest.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 2.
  5. Exhale slowly through pursed lips for a count of 6.
  6. Repeat this process for 5-10 minutes.

You can practice this deep breathing exercise several times a day, especially when you’re feeling stressed or tense.

Guided Imagery:

Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that can be helpful for children experiencing TMJ pain. It helps them focus their attention away from discomfort and onto calming images. Here’s a basic structure for a guided imagery session focused on TMJ relief for children:


  1. Find a quiet and comfortable space.
  2. Let the child choose a position they find relaxing, like lying down or sitting with support.
  3. If helpful, have a stuffed animal or favorite blanket nearby for comfort.

Guided Imagery Script:

(Use a gentle and calming voice throughout)

  1. Close your eyes and take a big breath in through your nose. Hold it for a count of three, then slowly blow it out through your mouth. Feel your body relax with each breath.
  2. Imagine you’re in your favorite calming place. It could be a beach, a forest, or even a magical world you create. What do you see, hear, and smell in this place?
  3. In this place, there’s a cool, sparkling stream. Let’s imagine the coolness flowing up from your toes, all the way to your jaw. Feel the coolness soothe any tightness or discomfort in your jaw muscles.
  4. Imagine a gentle breeze blowing through your favourite place. Feel the breeze carrying away any pain or tension in your jaw.
  5. Stay in your happy place for a few minutes, focusing on the coolness and calmness.
  6. When you’re ready, slowly wiggle your fingers and toes. Take a deep breath in and out, then gently open your eyes.

Additional Tips:

  1. Adapt the imagery to the child’s interests. For example, instead of a stream, use a superhero’s healing touch or a cloud that carries away discomfort.
  2. Keep the sessions short, around 5-10 minutes, especially for younger children.
  3. Practice regularly, ideally daily, for the best results.


Biofeedback is a promising therapy for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders (TMD) in children. TMJ disorders are a group of conditions that affect the jaw joint and the muscles that control it. Symptoms of TMJ in children can include pain in the jaw, face, or ear, headaches, difficulty chewing, and jaw popping or clicking.

How it helps:

Biofeedback can help children with TMJ learn to control their muscle tension and reduce pain. During biofeedback therapy, a child is attached to sensors that monitor their muscle activity, such as muscle tension in the jaw. The child can then see this information on a screen in real time. This helps them to become aware of muscle tension that they may not even realize they are holding. Once they are aware of the tension, they can learn to relax their muscles.

Biofeedback for TMJ in children is usually a safe and effective treatment. It is a non-invasive therapy, which means that it does not involve any needles or surgery. Biofeedback can also be a very empowering therapy for children, as it helps them to take control of their own pain.


Here are some of the benefits of biofeedback for TMJ in children:

  1. Reduces pain
  2. Improves jaw function
  3. Reduces headaches
  4. Improves sleep
  5. Improves quality of life

Biofeedback is not a cure for TMJ, but it can be a helpful tool in managing the symptoms of the condition. If you are considering biofeedback for your child, it is important to talk to their doctor to see if it is right for them.

Postural guidelines for temporomandibular joint dysfunction in children:

There are no specific postural guidelines for TMJ in children. However, good posture in general is important for overall health and well-being, and it may help to reduce pain or discomfort in the TMJ. Here are some general tips for good posture:

  1. Stand tall with your shoulders back and relaxed.
  2. Keep your head level and aligned with your spine.
  3. Avoid slouching or hunching over.
  4. Bend at your knees when you pick up something heavy.
  5. Make sure your workstation is ergonomically designed so that you can maintain good posture while sitting.


In conclusion, physical therapy plays a vital role in managing the symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) in children. Through a combination of exercises, manual therapy, posture correction, stress management techniques, and collaboration with other healthcare professionals, physical therapists provide comprehensive care tailored to the unique needs of each child. By focusing on both the structural and functional aspects of TMJ disorder, physical therapy contributes to pain relief, improved jaw function, and enhanced overall well-being in children experiencing TMJ symptoms.

FAQ’s :

How do you treat TMJ in children?

TMJ, or temporomandibular joint dysfunction, can cause pain and discomfort in a child’s jaw. Thankfully, there are treatments available to address TMJ in children. Here’s a breakdown of how TMJ is treated in children:


In many cases, simple self-care measures can be very effective for mild TMJ issues. Here are some things you can do at home to help your child:

  1. Rest: Encourage your child to avoid strenuous activities that involve their jaw, such as chewing gum or eating hard foods. Opt for softer foods during flare-ups.
  2. Heat: Apply moist heat to the sides of their face to relax the muscles around the jaw joint.
  3. Stress management: Stress can worsen TMJ symptoms. Help your child find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise or relaxation techniques.

Dental Treatment:

If self-care isn’t enough, a dentist can provide additional treatment options:

Mouth guards:

A dentist may create a mouthguard for your child to wear at night, especially if they grind their teeth. This helps prevent further strain on the jaw joint.

Other treatments:

In some cases, additional therapies may be helpful:

  1. Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach your child jaw exercises and stretches to improve flexibility and reduce pain.
  2. Medication: For pain relief, a doctor may prescribe pain relievers or muscle relaxants.
  3. Surgery: Surgery is rarely needed for TMJ in children.

What is the first line of treatment for TMJ?

The first line of treatment for TMJ typically involves conservative measures, which are treatments that are non-invasive and have minimal risks. These can include:

  1. Self-care: This includes applying moist heat or ice packs to the affected area, practicing relaxation techniques to manage stress, and eating soft foods to avoid straining the jaw muscles.
  2. Over-the-counter pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) can help to reduce pain and inflammation.
  3. Mouth guards: Also known as occlusal splints, these are custom-made devices that fit over your teeth and help to keep your jaw joint in a more comfortable position. They can be worn during the day or at night, depending on your needs.

These conservative measures are usually effective in relieving TMJ symptoms. However, if your symptoms are severe or do not improve with conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend other treatments, such as physical therapy, muscle relaxants, or surgery.

What is the newest treatment for TMJ?

Two of the emerging treatments for TMJ disorders are:

  1. Botox injections: Botox, often associated with cosmetic procedures, has shown promise in relieving TMJ pain and muscle tension. By relaxing the jaw muscles, Botox can reduce clenching and grinding, thus alleviating TMJ symptoms. This minimally invasive procedure offers significant relief for some patients.
  2. Laser therapy: Dental lasers provide a precise and efficient way to treat TMJ. Laser therapy can alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and promote tissue regeneration in the jaw joint area. It offers a gentle, minimally invasive approach with potentially quicker healing times.

It’s important to note that  the effectiveness of any treatment depends on the individual case.  If you are experiencing TMJ pain,  consult with a dental professional to discuss the best course of treatment for you.


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I am a highly skilled and experienced content writer with a Doctorate in Therapy degree. With a deep understanding of the human body and a passion for health and wellness. I combines my clinical expertise and writing skills to create valuable and engaging content.

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