Jaw Popping Symptoms & Causes
Most people have had this kind of experience at some point in their lives, if you’re one of those who have felt your jaw locking up on or popping can say its kinda scary right. When the clicking or popping becomes a frequent occurrence, however, it could be a sign of something more serious than gasping at the coffee you just spilled.
If you are experiencing a popping jaw when chewing or maybe even at random here’s what you should know.
What is jaw popping?
Jaw popping can be a painful feeling that’s caused by the joints that connect the jawbone to the skull; with one joint on each side. These are known as the temporomandibular joints or TMJ – pretty big word right? Don’t worry I’ll try my best to put it in simplest terms.
Picture the hinge on your house door, now imagine the movement of that hinge as your swing the door, this is almost the same movement that allows you to open and close your mouth. Like the middle parts of that hinge, our jaws are designed similarly to give us the ability to chew, talk, and yawn. When something prevents this natural movement, a popping feeling can occur.
Why is my jaw popping?
Because our jaws are much more complex than a door hinge, the joints tend to pop or click from time to time. Usually people report two types of jaw popping. The first one is a normal occurrence that happens when the jaw is open wide causing the lower jaw bone to pass over a small ridge in the upper jaw. The second one is when the popping or locking is felt most of the time or on a daily basis. This could be a sign of TMJ Disorder, a problem that can wear down the jaw joint leading to more unpleasant symptoms.
You might experience jaw popping and TMJ symptoms if you:
• chew gum too often
• bite your finger nails
• clench your jaw
• thrust your jaw out
• bite your lip or cheek
These kinds of motions or behaviors can cause wear and tear on the joints, which can lead to erosion – the loss of tooth enamel.
You could have TMJ disorder
We now know that the temporomandibular joint is responsible for moving the jaw backward, forward and side-to-side. Any issue that keeps this complex design from moving properly is called TMD or TMJ disorder. It’s not always clear why this disorder happens. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common causes include trauma, improper jaw alignment and osteoarthritis.
Symptoms of TMJ disorder
• Severe headaches that seem like migraines
• Earaches and/or pressure or pain behind the eyes
• Jaw popping or jaw clicking when chewing
• Jaw popping or clicking when yawning
• Pain when chewing, yawning or talking
• Jaw that gets locked or stuck in the same position
• Tenderness of the muscles within the jaw
• Change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
Jaw popping treatment
If your jaw popping isn’t serious, it should go away on its own after a week or two. If it persists or you notice it on a daily basis, there’s a good chance you may have TMJ disorder.
This may be a good time to contact your dentist to determine whether you are suffering from TMD with a dental examination, reviewing your dental and medical history, and taking appropriate X-rays. If you do have TMD, there are a variety of treatment options available, based on the severity of your issue.
Some of these include:
• changes in behavior
• pain medications
• muscle relaxers
• steroid injections
• physical therapy
• night guard or oral splint (also called an occlusal splint).
Wearing a night guard or bite plate helps you bite against the splint rather than your teeth. This helps your jaw joints and muscles to relax especially if you noticed a sore jaw in the morning due to nightly teeth grinding. May people have had success with night guards maybe give one a try if you haven’t yet.
If these treatments fail to relieve your TMD symptoms, you can talk to your dentist or oral surgeon about surgery.
Sometimes minor arthroscopic surgery is enough to improve or eliminate TMD symptoms, otherwise, extensive jaw replacement surgery will be necessary; especially if the jaw joint has begun to degenerate due to trauma, osteoarthritis or a genetic disorder.
About the author
Dr. Thomas Chung licensed dentist practicing in the Rockford, IL area.