If you’ve ever experienced a jaw that pops, you know how disconcerting it can be. You can hear it as well as feel it. Suffice it to say, a popping jaw that occurs with every movement when you are talking or eating is extremely annoying, if not worrisome. A popping in your jaw usually means that you have TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder). You may also hear the term TMJ, which stands for temporomandibular joints, to refer to this disorder.
At Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry, we see many patients with irritating, uncomfortable, and painful jaw popping. We can help by treating the symptoms of TMJ in order to relieve your pain and discomfort. In this article, we will shed some light on what the causes and treatments are for a popping jaw.
What is a Popping Jaw?
Jaw popping usually occurs when you are talking and chewing and can range from being simply uncomfortable to painful. People who develop a pop or click in their jaw commonly have other symptoms such as:
- Jaw pain
- Neck pain
If you have a dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the first sign is usually a popping jaw. The TMJ has a very important role in your face and body. This joint connects your lower jaw to the temporal bones in your skull, allowing for the jaw to move sideways, forward, and backward. This is a complex joint that has to be perfectly aligned for you to have the range of motion you need to chew, talk, yawn, and perform other essential movements of your mouth.
Types of Jaw Popping
There are two ways your jaw can pop. One way is when your mouth is open wide as in yawning. This type is normal and isn’t a cause for concern. The other way is when you close your mouth and open it again as in chewing or speaking. This type of jaw clicking occurs when the cartilage that cushions your jaw joint slides in and out of place and can be reason for concern.
Causes for Jaw Popping
Jaw popping and clicking can start unexpectedly without warning. A jaw popping can be caused by stress or trauma as well as habits such as clenching your jaw and biting your fingernails. A trauma can cause the jaw to dislocate, incurring pain. Additionally, some medical conditions may also cause jaw popping.
You may experience jaw popping or clicking when you:
- Chew gum too often
- Bite your fingernails
- Grind your teeth
- Clench your jaw
- Thrust your jaw out
- Bite your lip or cheek
Performing these behaviors can cause wear and tear on the joints, leading to erosion. Sometimes, when you begin to notice your jaw is popping, you may unconsciously begin to exercise more care in moving your jaw. Then, the problem gets better or goes away on its own because you have stopped the behavior that was causing it.
Jaw popping typically isn’t a cause for concern if there isn’t any jaw pain accompanying it. However, there are certain underlying causes that create a TMJ dysfunction that need medical attention.
Medical Reasons for a Popping Jaw
A popping jaw is seen as a side effect in health conditions such as:
- Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis – These can damage the cartilage of the TMJ and cause joint pain, stiffness, swelling, inflammation, and reduced range of motion.
- Malocclusion of the teeth – This results in misalignment that can cause the jaw to pop. Malocclusions are also known as crossbite, overbite, underbite, open bite, or crowded teeth. Misalignment is usually treated with braces and other orthodontic care.
- Myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) – This causes chronic pain in the musculoskeletal system and is usually localized to one area. When it is in the jaw, you can experience popping.
- Sleep apnea – This causes jaw pain because the jaw clenches down when you sleep in order to keep your airway open. Clenching will put pressure and stress on the jaw and neck.
- Infection in the salivary gland – This can lead to a TMJ disorder and jaw popping as well as other symptoms. The infection may be in the parotid glands inside each cheek, the submandibular glands below the jawbone, the sublingual glands located under your tongue. You may also experience facial pain, dry mouth, a bad taste, and swelling. This should be treated as soon as possible to prevent complications.
- Tumor – A tumor can impact the jaw and lead to oral cancer. Tumors can be in the lips, tongue, cheek, gums, floor of the mouth, and in the hard and soft palate. When a tumor is interfering with the movement of the jaw, you can have jaw popping.
Ways to Treat TMJ
The best course of action when you have jaw popping is to make an appointment with your dental professional.
Your dentist may prescribe remedies you can do at home to help alleviate the TMJ. Some examples of home remedies may include:
- Applying a ice pack or moist heat to your jaw
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin, or muscle relaxants
- Eating soft foods
- Wearing a night guard or splint
- Performing TMJ-specific exercises
You may improve mild jaw popping by limiting harmful habits such as:
- Biting your fingernails
- Chewing gum frequently
- Crunching ice
- Eating a lot of hard or chewy foods
Your dentist may also suggest undergoing medical treatment including:
- Corrective dental treatments
- Trigger point injections
- Radio wave therapy
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
Surgery can be an option when other treatments have not been successful. Applicable surgeries include:
- Arthrocentesis (removing fluid from the joint)
- Open-joint surgery (replacing or repairing the joint)
- Arthroscopy (small surgical instruments are used to repair the joint)
Contact Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry to Schedule a Dental Appointment
If you are experiencing jaw popping, contact our dental professionals at Sninski & Schmitt Family Dentistry. Don’t put off seeking our help. Over time, symptoms can become worse and the causes may be serious. We are experienced in diagnosing the underlying causes and prescribing treatments for popping jaws. Call us at our Holly Springs dentist office at (919) 600-6262 and our Cary, NC dentist office at (919) 467-2203 or fill out our online contact form to schedule an appointment.