Jaw popping, which is sometimes called jaw clicking, is an irritating sensation that you can have when chewing, talking or yawning. In most cases, it is not a sign of something dangerous, but a temporary inconvenience. However, in some people it can be a symptom of TMJ and may require treatment.
Image Credit: dolgachov / tr.123rf.com
So what makes this popping or clicking sound when you open your mouth?
It’s a couple of joints called temporomandibular joints, which are found on either side of your jaw and connect it to the skull. The joint name is often abbreviated as TMJ, but this abbreviation also denotes a disorder affecting this area. Sometimes another term is used, and the disorder can also be called TMJD or just TMD.
Is this clicking always caused by TMJ?
No. In most cases, the clicking sound you hear is just a little bit irritating, but not a sign of something serious. It can be due to jaw overuse, say, when you open your mouth too wide to bite that huge hamburger or one of your recent yawns was a failure: if you overextend the jaw, it can lead to that very popping you hear when opening your mouth or closing it. If there is no pain accompanying the strange sensation, there is no need to rush to the nearest clinic. The problem usually resolves quickly.
However, feeling pain can indicate your TMJ may need treatment. Wear and tear on TMJ and erosions resulting from it can be caused by grinding teeth, biting fingernails, having the habit of chewing gum all the time, biting lips and doing other things that imply constant moving of the jaw that is not beneficial for it.
The disorder is diagnosed in over 10 million people, but it is more likely to attack women, though the reason for it remains unclear. TMJ and the jaw clicking associated with it can occur in those suffering from one of the following conditions:
- Arthritis. The joint cartilage can be damaged either of the two kinds of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid. If the cartilage is damaged, there is no proper absorption in the socket of the TMJ. If you have arthritis of any kind, you are likely to experience joint pain, inflammation often manifesting itself in swelling, and stiffness. Besides, moving your jaw can be limited, and opening your mouth wide is a difficult thing to do.
- Jaw injury. In case your jaw becomes unhinged, dislocated or injured as a result of an attack, accident or something else, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Jaw injuries can produce such symptoms as intense pain (which may vary in intensity), swelling, and bleeding.
- Myofascial pain syndrome. The syndrome is a disorder causing pain in certain areas of muscles, which are called trigger points. It usually develops in those who contract a muscle repetitively while working or playing sports. The syndrome can also affect the jaw, and in such cases clicking can be heard.
- Malocclusion of teeth. Misalignment resulting from malocclusion of teeth can lead to jaw clicking.
There are other conditions that can manifest themselves in jaw popping, like infection, sleep apnea and even tumors. However, in most cases the underlying cause is rather trivial – don’t yawn as if you wanted to swallow the whole world! – and the issue resolves on its own. The message here is that it is pain that can indicate whether you should see your doctor soon. If there is no pain, let your jaw rest for some time and wait.
If you feel pain but cannot visit a doctor right now or the symptom has occurred for the first time, you can try to alleviate it by following these rules:
- Keep your mouth slightly open while at home to reduce pressure on your jaw.
- Do not open your mouth too wide. Eat soft foods that do not require you to chew them, such as soups, yoghurts and smoothies.
- If the pain is too intense, try using NSAIDs your GP recommended you.
- Don’t forget to see a dentist or GP if the problem remains.
TMJ Disorders – MayoClinic.org
Gender Difference in Prevalence of Signs and Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorders: A Retrospective Study on 243 Consecutive Patients –Medsci.org
Management and Treatment of Temporomandibular Disorders: A Clinical Perspective – Tandfonline.com