Dealing with Painful, Popping Jaws

Popping Jaw Joints

If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from jaw joint problems, then clicking or popping jaw joints may be a daily occurrence. For many people, the sensation can be uncomfortable, and perhaps a little disturbing. For others, it may be a barely-noticeable annoyance that doesn’t seem to warrant any serious concern. Whether it is mild or severe, the truth is that you shouldn’t ignore your popping jaws, which could indicate TMD and a risk of declining dental health if not addressed promptly. Besides the clicking, you might also begin to experience chronic headaches, jaw and facial pain, trouble opening and closing your mouth, and more.

Popping and clicking noises when you move your mouth may indicate a serious dysfunction, even if your jaw doesn’t hurt (yet). The muscles that typically make the noise should move smoothly and quietly; if they don’t, your jaw may be grinding at night. Your temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, connect your lower jaw to your skull, and help keep your mandible from scraping against the temporal bones as your mouth opens and closes. An injured or disproportionate bite can complicate your jaw’s movement, and the joints may pop and click as your jaw tries to compensate for the imbalance.

Understand Popping Jaws

Popping Jaw joints is a condition where the joints are damaged, inflamed, and/or misaligned, and the resulting discomfort can often become severe. The disk might swell, become misaligned, or develop a perforation (a small hole) that aggravates your jaw’s nerve. Besides the popping noises that indicate TMJ disorder, other symptoms can include;

  • Chronic headaches, including migraines
  • Pain and ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Clenching/grinding your teeth
  • Difficulty opening and closing your mouth; lockjaw
  • Pain in the face, neck, shoulders, and upper back
  • Tender, sore face and jaw muscles
  • Exhausted jaw muscles, especially when chewing your food
  • Occasional dizziness
  • Clicking or Popping jaws when opening your mouth

A Look at Temporomandibular Joints

TMJs, or temporomandibular joints, are located on either side of your jaw, in close proximity to your ears. They are the joints that your lower jaw, or mandible, pivots upon, and they rely on balance to operate properly.

Your two TMJs work in tandem with each other and your jaw muscles to open, close, and move your jaw about. If any of your bite’s balance is disturbed, such as if teeth are crooked or missing, then TMJs can become damaged, inflamed, and/or forced out of alignment. This process may start with a simple popping jaw upon opening. The result may be the further development of TMJ and its many forms of discomfort.

TMD Symptoms to Look Out For

Besides clicking or popping jaw joints, TMD disorder also aggravates your trigeminal nerves, which control jaw movement and provide sensory information for most of your craniofacial structures. The three branches of each trigeminal nerve can transfer pain from you jaw area to other areas of your head, neck, and face, and common TM disorder symptoms can include;

  • Unconscious teeth grinding as your jaw tries to find a comfortable position
  • Tinnitus, or painful, persistent ringing in one or both ears
  • Chronic headaches and migraines with no other discernible cause
  • Sore, stiff muscles in your jaw, face, neck, and shoulders
  • Trouble biting and chewing, including occasional locked jaw

Assess the Situation

Because of the diversity of its symptoms, TMD disorder can sometimes prove difficult to diagnosis. If you experience chronic discomfort similar to those described above, but have been unable to discover its cause, then you can gauge the likelihood of TMJ disorder by assessing your bite’s alignment. Crooked teeth can force your jaw to work harder to bite and chew, contributing to TMJ disorder. You can test your jaw’s symmetry by standing in front of a mirror, then slowly opening your mouth wide and slowly closing it again. If your jaw moves or twitches to the side instead of moving directly up and down, then your jaw’s joints and muscles are trying to keep your mouth straight, and TMJ disorder is a likely possibility.

Schedule an Examination of your Popping Jaws

Even if you thoroughly understand the intricacies of TMJ and are able to see that your jaw’s imbalanced, a proper diagnosis requires a detailed, professional oral examination. Using innovative imaging technology and an experienced eye, Dr. Fondriest can help determine if you’re suffering from the jaw dysfunction, and why. Once diagnosed, TMD is clinically treated by addressing the underlying condition. Orthodontic treatment straightens crooked teeth, and can restore your bite’s balance. Minor cases can often be treated with oral splints that keep your jaw in an ideal position, eliminating pressure on your jaw so the joints can heal.

Temporary Relief at Home

Until you can seek a professional diagnosis and treatment, Dr. Fondriest recommends trying these home remedies to relieve your aching, popping jaw;

  • Bring the Heat—Warmth is an excellent muscle relaxer. When your jaw and face muscles are tense and in pain, you can help them relax by applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to one or both sides of your jaw. Be sure it isn’t too hot, or you’ll risk burning the sensitive skin on your face.
  • Be Cool—It’s not contradictory; heat relaxes muscles, but cold can often offer quick pain relief. You can alternate hot and cold so that you can enjoy the best of both muscle relaxation and pain relief.
  • Treat Yourself to a Massage—The benefits of a massage are two-fold; the relaxation will alleviate excessive stress, a common contributor to TMJ, and massaging your neck, back, and jaw muscles will help directly ease the tension related to the discomfort.

Do You have a Popping Jaw or worse?

Aside from providing expert general and cosmetic dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds highly-respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from all of the surrounding communities of Chicago. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.

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