Jaw Popping Symptoms & Causes
To ruin the day or not to ruin the day: a question for the jaw that won’t stop popping, the jaw inflicted with temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Initial symptoms appear manageable – bouts of joint pain and irritation as you crack open your favorite can of tail mix. However, after a while, discomfort climbs your head until suddenly, you wonder if your brain, rather than your golden-brown snack, was roasted in a fire.
Urgent to eliminate the pain, you regretfully phone your doctor…. the third time this week. But the villain of this story cannot be fought within the walls of a primary care facility. Only the diagnosis and expertise of a dentist office will rid your mouth of its ailments and have you chomping your favorite snacks once again.
If you are experiencing a popping jaw when chewing or maybe even at random here’s what you should know.
What is TMD?
Temporomandibular disorders or TMDs pertain to the mouth, and include over thirty different conditions which cause joint and muscle pain in the jaw. Although they often disappear without the help of treatments, when ignored, the ailment occasionally lingers to the point of chronic longevity. Discomfort and suffering ensue. And despite its varying degrees of seriousness, TMD affects about one in twelve people in the United States, always bothering more women than men.
Resulting from a wide range of differences in TMDs, the exact cause of the disorder remains unclear. Many people who suffer jaw injuries, such as damage to the temporomandibular joint, report cases of TMD while other victims record no obvious explanations for their symptoms. Common to most joint pains, genes and psychological stresses are among potential sources for such illnesses. Infections also play a part in TMD development.
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.
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.
What causes temporomandibular disorder/ jaw popping?
The easiest way to identify a temporomandibular disorder is by identifying its symptoms – the first step is to curing an afflicted jaw. However, not all joint clicks and pops signal a problem, as many healthy mouths do so without discomfort. Even so, the following problems may signify a potential TMD:
● Soreness in the jaw joint and/or chewing muscles
● Stiffness of the jaw
● Limited movement in the jaw (jaw locking)
● Painful clicks or pops while moving the jaw
● Ear aches, headaches, toothaches and neck aches
● An alteration in your bite (teeth alignment)
Once detected, symptoms should be brought to a trusted dentist for diagnosis and treatment plan. By creating an appointment, patients can expect to have their syndromes detailed within their medical history, as well as their face, neck and jaw examined. After such investigation, the dentist will determine whether the ailment is a TMD, and prescribe the proper cure moving forward.
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
• grind your teeth
• 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
Ways to relieve jaw popping pain?
To battle troublesome TMDs, dentists often recommend simple, nonsurgical home remedies. These practices can be performed at home on daily or weekly schedules and may lessen the impact of jaw pain:
●Consuming soft foods
(Tough foods such as steak, nuts and crusty bread place unnecessary pressure on tender jaw muscles. Temporarily switching to soft alternatives can ease the pain.)
● Applying heat and cold to jaw joints to relax and stretch muscles
● Taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as Aspirin to lower inflammation
● Improving your posture to align your jaw and neck and remove stress from joints
● Relaxation techniques including yoga, meditation, exercise and breathing deeply will lower stress levels and tension
● Lessen gum chewing and jaw clenching habits
If these methods don’t work, then most likely you will need to see a dentist or oral surgeon for the following:
● Physical therapy – by bringing back mobility and function to a joint, physical therapy often improves jaw movement over time.
● Prescription medication – reducing anxiety, inflammation, depressions and other negative states can positively affect muscle and joint health.
● Night guards and other intraoral devices – fitting over the teeth, these mechanisms may strengthen or stabilize the teeth and jaw, reducing pain
● Complementary treatments – combining with other conventional solutions, acupuncture and electrical nerve stimulation may relieve joint pain
● Surgery – a last resort to solve TMD
Don’t wait until its too late
Although the amount of treatments and possibilities related to TMD appear intimidating, one truth remains: you are not alone. In fact, millions of Americans suffer from temporomandibular pain and rely upon dentists – a reliable and friendly resource – to offer expertise, treatments and advice. Eating your favorite trail mix will no longer be an agonizing undertaking.
Take control of your life and visit your local dentist today!
Meet The Dentist
Dr. Thomas Chung is a licensed dentist practicing in the Rockford, IL area for over 10 years.