How often has this happened to you? You’re sitting down, about to take a bite of your favorite hamburger or piece of sushi and, as you open your mouth, you hear a familiar popping or clicking sound in your jaw. Even if it doesn’t cause any pain, that loud popping noise can be disconcerting and, unfortunately, indicative of a serious problem that could lead to pain and discomfort down the road. Popping and clicking jaws are one of the primary symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder, often referred to as TMJ or TMD. These joints lay on either side of your face and they help you perform everyday activities like chewing, speaking, yawning, and laughing with ease. Dr. James Fondriest, discusses the causes of popping jaw and offers a few home remedies as well as advice concerning when you need to talk to a professional.
An Introduction to the TMJs
Gently place your fingertips on either of your face, just in front of your earlobes, and then open and close your mouth. The movements you feel beneath the skin are the TMJs. These high use joints are comprised of several interconnected parts, including the bony protrusions of the jaw and skull aspects of the joints, the muscles that control the movement of the jaw, and the disk of cartilage nestled within the joint. When all the aspects of the TMJs perform in harmony, you experience the smooth and easy opening, closing, and gliding motions we all take for granted. Despite their seemingly delicate construction, the TMJs are surprisingly resilient and strong when all the interconnected parts are healthy. However, if even a single component of the TMJs experiences a problem, it can lead to disruption or discomfort during normal activities. For example:
- If the muscles surrounding the TMJs are put under excessive stress or are overused, this condition can lead to jaw pain, neck pain, facial pain, and headaches.
- Chronic teeth clenching can overload the jaw joints.
- If the disk of cartilage moves out of place, pressure placed on the other bones and muscles can lead to severe pain, impaired function, and tell-tale popping or clicking noises.
Most commonly, traumatic injury to the jaw or face or parafunctional behaviors, such as bruxism (nighttime teeth grinding), lead to the development of TMJ disorder (TMD).
Why Does My Jaw Pop?
The physiology of the jaw joints is complex but, in a nutshell, a jaw can pop for the same reason that the knuckle joints of your fingers pop or crack. Housed within the joint is synovial fluid which facilitates the smooth movement of the cartilage and bones. Certain gases, like nitrogen, are a normal component of your body makeup and as the relative pressure of the synovial fluid drops, the nitrogen bubbles out and creates that familiar popping or cracking noise in the joints.
Is a Popping Jaw Serious?
Many people experience jaw-popping, especially in the morning, and in most cases it is not accompanied by any pain or discomfort. Painless popping jaw is not necessarily serious, although your dentist may choose to keep an eye on the area and talk to you about any developments or changes in feeling or function at your regular six month checkups. If you experience any pain, discomfort, or soreness when your jaw pops, you may have TMJ/TMD. In addition, if you experience chronic or frequent pain in the jaw, face, or neck or suffer from chronic headaches, you may have TMJ/TMD. You will want to talk to your dentist about your treatment options before the pain associated with TMJ/TMD disrupts your ability to enjoy normal, everyday activities.
Treatment Options for Popping or Clicking Jaw
Dr. Fondriest, a Lake Forest dentist with extensive experience diagnosing and treating TMJ disorders, suggests the following home-care remedies for easing the pain associated with TMJ-related popping jaw:
- An appropriate dose of an over-the-counter pain relief medication will ease your discomfort.
- Applying alternating warm and cold compresses to the jaws will serve the dual purposes of relieving pain and relaxing the muscles.
- Restricting your food intake to softer, easier to chew foods such as well-cooked fruits and vegetables, pasta, rice, smoothies, or ground meats will ease the stress placed on the TMJs.
In mild cases of TMJ/TMD, consistent use of home-care remedies can often alleviate the problem within a few weeks or months. Other treatment options to address TMJ disorder and popping jaw include:
- A nightguard, a type of custom-fitted mouth guard worn during sleep to help relax the muscles, may be prescribed.
- Often, excessive stress placed on the TMJs can be alleviated with dental restorations that create an ideal bite (the way the top and bottom jaw come together). Dr. Fondriest has received extensive training with the prestigious Pankey Institute in the treating TMJ using dental restorations.
Talk to us about your clicking or popping jaw
If you have a painful popping or clicking jaw or experience any of the symptoms of TMJ/TMD, call us for a consultation. Dr. James Fondriest proudly offers restorative and cosmetic dentistry services to patients from Lake Forest and the North Shore suburbs of Chicago.
Dr Fondriest is a Nationally recognized and highly sought after cosmetic dentist serving clients from throughout the United States