What Causes Jaw Popping or TMD Disorder

We all experience clicking or popping in the jaw from time to time. When clicking and popping becomes a common occurrence, however, it could indicate a chronic issue within the jaw joint. If you experience clicking or popping in the jaw, here’s what you should know.

What Causes Jaw Popping?

Because they are such complex structures, our jaw joints tend to pop or click from time to time, especially if we move them in an awkward manner. People typically report two types of jaw popping. The first is a normal occurrence that happens when the jaw is open wide, and the lower jaw bone passes over a small ridge in the upper jaw bone. The other kind of popping is more concerning because it involves the displacement of the cartilage-like disc within the joint.

When jaw popping and clicking happens most or all of the time, it could be a sign of TMJ Disorder. Over time, this issue can wear down the jaw joint, leading to a myriad of unpleasant symptoms.

What is TMJ Disorder?

TMD, or temporomandibular joint disorder, is a condition affecting the temporomandibular joint. One of the most complex joints in the entire body, the temporomandibular joint is responsible for moving the jaw backward, forward and side-to-side. Any issue that keeps this complex system of discs, bones, ligaments and muscles from functioning properly is called TMD or TMJ disorder. With that said, it’s not always clear why the disorder occurs. According to the Mayo Clinic and the American Dental Association, the most common causes include trauma, improper jaw alignment and osteoarthritis.

What are the Symptoms of TMD?

Temporomandibular joint disorder can have a variety of signs and symptoms, which can leave patients feeling confused. Some of the most common causes include:

  • 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

How to Fix a Clicking Jaw

If your jaw popping isn’t serious, it should go away on its own after a week or two. If it persists or worsens over time, however, there’s a good chance you may be suffering from TMJ disorder.

Your dentist can determine whether you are suffering from TMD by conducting an examination, reviewing your dental and medical history, and taking appropriate X-rays. If you do have TMD, there are a variety of treatment options available, based on the severity of your issue. TMD treatments include comfort measures, changes in behavior, pain medications, muscle relaxers, steroid injections, oral splints and physical therapy.

If these treatments fail to relieve your TMD symptoms, you can talk to your dentist or oral surgeon about having TMJ surgery. In some instances, minor arthroscopic surgery is enough to improve or eliminate TMD symptoms. In other instances, patients may require extensive jaw replacement surgery, especially if the jaw joint has begun to degenerate due to trauma, osteoarthritis or a genetic disorder. Talk to your dentist or surgeon about TMJ surgery recovery times and expectations to make an informed decision about treating your TMD.