Have you ever asked yourself, why does my jaw pop?
If so, you’re definitely not alone.
The expression “Jaw popping” refers to the clicking sound accompanying opening and closing your mouth, which can be painful to some extent sometimes.
The noises you hear are maybe from your temporomandibular joint or in short, TMJ.
The TMJ disorders affect many people around the globe.
As many as one third of adults report having one or more problem with their TMJ. And it’s believed to be more of an issue for women than men.
So, What Exactly Is The TMJ?
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) refers to the two joints connecting the mandible to the skull.
It is a bilateral synovial joint articulation between the temporal bone of the skull above and the mobile mandible below, hence its name.
The Main Components of This Complex Joint Include The Following:
- The fibrous joint capsule
- The articular disc
- The mandibular condyles
- The articular surface of the temporal bone
- Three ligaments: temporomandibular ligament; stylomandibular ligament, and sphenomandibular ligament.
Here Is How The Structure Serves The Function:
The temporomandibular joint acts like a sliding hinge. It can allow your mandible to perform side to side movements, as well as move forward and backward.
The structure and the function of the TMJ make it one of the most unique and sophisticated joints in the human body.
The TMJ allows us a wide range of movements crucial to enable us to speak, eat, and not to mention yawn comfortably.
The muscles of mastication that are attached to this joint work on limiting and controlling its movements.
On the other hand, the fibrous articular disc acts as a cushion and absorbs massive loads of forces when we open and close our jaws.
So Why Does My Jaw Pop?
Excessive “Jaw Popping” or clicking is one of the alarming symptoms of the presence of a tempromandibular joint disorder or in short, TMD.
One should keep in mind that TMD is a multi-factorial disease.
The exact and direct causes of TMJ problems may be obscure to many and are not always understood.
Various factors predispose TMJ disorders and contribute to the muscle stiffness and soreness that characterize TMD. We can sum them up as follows:
- Arthritis affecting the joint
- Misalignment of teeth leading to malocclusion and trauma from occlusion
- Para-functional oral habits like bruxism and clenching
- Faulty orthodontic braces
- Suffering from immense stress or chronic anxiety
- Always eating on only one side of the mouth while neglecting the other side
- Excessive gum chewing
- Poor posture
- Direct trauma or blow to the jaw
Why Do More Women Suffer From Jaw Popping?
TMD is one of the diseases that have gender predilection, which in other words means that a person’s gender plays a role in their likelihood to develop the disease.
Many researchers suggest that women are much more susceptible to suffer from TMD.
It’s thought that women are even about three times more likely than men to suffer from jaw popping and seek treatment for TMD.
This gender imbalance is a result of the following factors:
- The collagen holding the articular disc in place is different in women.
- Women are more likely to suffer nutrient deficiencies due to the regular loss of essential nutrients, as a result of the menstrual cycle bleeding.
- Fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones can adversely affect the joint’s health.
- Women are at a higher risk of suffering from stress and chronic anxiety which is a crucial risk factor for TMD.
- Last but never least, women are also more prone to have dental disorders or diseases affecting the teeth, and as a result, their TMJ are subjected to more stresses.
Here are the Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Disorders
The most common symptom of TMD is pain in the joint itself or the muscles of mastication (i.e. chewing muscles) that are attached to it.
Other signs include jaw popping or clicking, locking of the lower jaw and limitation of the movement of your mandible.
Also, you will notice changes in your occlusion which means the way your teeth come together.
It’s also reported that TMD patients suffer from recurring headaches. Sudden changes in one’s bite or occlusion have also been reported.
For most people, TMD symptoms are very mild, self-limiting, and often resolve on their own.
For others patients though, the joint pain can be severe and debilitating. We recommend that whenever you experience painful jaw popping, pay your dentist a visit as soon as possible.
You can do a periodic self-assessment to Make sure your TMJ is healthy
- See if you can comfortably fit 3 fingers between your anterior (front) teeth when you open your mouth widely.
- See if you can chew and swallow without pain.
- Check if you can perform side to side movements with your mandible without discomfort.
Here is how your dentist will diagnose the problem
It’s important to note that self-assessment is not enough in case of TMD diagnosis.
The reason why is that the signs and symptoms of TMJ problems can lead to confusing it with other diseases like sinusitis, dental abscesses, ear infections, and even some neurological conditions.
The signs and symptoms mentioned above are what your dentist will keep in mind when obtaining a properly detailed dental and medical history.
A thorough examination of your head and neck will be performed.
The examination also includes a careful observation of the jaw movements and palpating the facial muscles.
Noticing tightness or tenderness of the facial muscles is also crucial.
Further radiographic examination may also be needed to aid in proving or ruling out a joint damage, which in return is mandatory for reaching a definite diagnosis.
One of the investigation tools used is panoramic radiographs. But in case of needing more details, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized axial tomography (CT) scans are indicated.
Treatment of Jaw Popping & TMD
As we mentioned before, in most of the cases, the signs and symptoms of most of the TMJ disorders don’t last long. In a matter of a year of behavior adjustments and simple lifestyle changes, patients improve markedly.
And because most cases of Jaw popping and TMJ disorders are temporary in nature, the vast majority of dental professionals strongly recommend non-invasive, conservative, and nonsurgical treatments for the management of TMD.
Surgical interventions have a great potential to cause harm to the TMJ. Therefore noninvasive treatments are the better alternative option, and should be tried first before invasive treatments are recommended.
The best results are usually attained through a combination of non-invasive treatment modalities
Here are some of them:
Behavioral modifications For No Jaw Popping
Good TMJ health starts with proper oral hygiene measures.
Keep brushing your teeth twice a day with a properly sized toothbrush and make sure to pay your dentist a visit regularly for proper check-ups and prophylaxis sessions.
Taking the following simple steps to relieve mild pain and discomfort will help greatly:
- Stick to a soft diet.
- Avoid crunchy food that will just add insult to injury and make your condition worse.
- Train yourself to take small bites of your food to avoid widely opening your mouth.
- Alternate applying hot and cold packs on your joint.
- Make sure to support your lower jaw while yawning by putting your hand underneath your chin.
- Avoid chewing gum as this puts extra pressure on your already stressed joint.
- Gently massage your facial muscles and neck.
- Follow gentle stretching exercises, as prescribed by your dentist.
Food For Joint Health Is Actually A Thing
Bear in mind that you can keep your TMJ in a good shape by a properly balanced diet.
In addition to your soft diet that allows your joint to heal, and your jaw popping to kiss you goodbye, it’s also crucial to consider the important nutrients needed for healthy joints:
- Bone broth: Bone broth is very rich in hyaluronic acid, which is important for lubricating and strengthening your joints.
- Omega -3 : Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and also their ability to reduce symptoms associated with arthritis. You can find Omega-3 fats in fatty fish, walnuts, and chia seeds
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is critical for healthy bones and joints as well.
- Olive oil: Olive oil is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Leafy Greens: Make sure to add lots of them to your diet for their magnesium content.
- Avocados and Dark chocolate: If you don’t fancy leafy greens you can find magnesium in these two alternatives.
Pharmacologic intervention is one of the non-invasive treatment modalities of TMD.
Prescribing medications that are similar to those indicated for arthritis and similar musculoskeletal disorders are one of the treatment options.
Here are the main medications that are used to treat TMD:
- Analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Your dentist may prescribe strong painkillers to relieve both acute and chronic pain. Acetaminophen and Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are a cornerstone in the pharmacological management of TMD.
- Muscle relaxants. They are used for treating chronic bruxism and to help relieve pain and discomfort caused by TMJ disorders.
- Tricyclic antidepressants and Anxiolytics. These medications are used in the treatment of chronic painful conditions in general and might be very effective in the treatment of chronic TMJ disorders.
In addition to recommending a soft diet, and prescribing analgesics and muscle relaxants, dentists perform different dental interventions that can really save the day.
Occlusal adjustments; mouth or bite gaurds, Orthodontic treatment, and splints are the most common remedies in case of finding out that trauma from occlusion, misalignment of teeth and/or clenching and bruxism are causing your TMD.
Your dentist and Oral surgeon can also reduce your locked jaw with a particular technique and push it back in place in case of dislocation of your lower jaw.
Physical therapy helps with the treatment of TMD cases through the following:
- strengthening the muscles of mastication
- stretching the stiff jaw muscles
- increasing the range of movement of the lower jaw
- relaxing the lower jaw
- reducing jaw popping
- promoting TMJ healing
Physical treatment modalities may include the following:
- Therapeutic Ultrasound.
- Moist heat and ice : They can improve the blood flow in the TMJ area and reduce inflammation and pain.
- Targeted therapeutic exercises: They include Side to side jaw movements, protrusive jaw movements, resisted opening exercise, resisted closing exercise, and tongue- up exercise. Your doctor can teach you these exercises and you can perform them at home.
There are two types of injections used in cases of TMD: Intra-articular injection and Myofascial trigger-point injection.
It’s important to bear in mind that Intra-articular injection is only to be used for severely painful acute conditions, or after other remedies and conservative therapies have been proven to be ineffective.
Applying local anesthetic and corticosteroid Injections inside of the TMJ is a treatment option used for the management of inflammation within the TMJ capsule.
In cases of TMD resulting from chronic bruxism, myofascial trigger-point injection of local anesthetics and Botox can be very beneficial.
What are the consequences of Leaving TMJ Disorder untreated?
Jaw popping and the TMJ disorder may not be a life-threatening issue, and this is why many patients ignore it and leave it untreated.
However, it’s very important to note that chronic untreated TMJ disorders can adversely affect your health and overall quality of life.
Leaving your clicking jaw untreated can lead to the following complications:
Really disturbing and embarrassing not to mention painful clicking of the joint during eating or yawning.
Fractured teeth and worn down enamel
Locked jaw joint or acute jaw dislocation
Earache and pain at the jaw point
Your TMJ problems can also adversely affect your hearing
The immense pain can cause you trouble sleeping at night or even insomnia
Severe headaches and migraines and neck pain
stiffness and soreness of the muscles of mastication (or Jaw muscles)
Suffering from gastritis as a result to the abuse of the NSAID group analgesics in order to cope with the TMJ pain
Battling with the chronic pain and headaches may lead to depression