Jaw Popping: What it Means for Your TMJ


Your jaw has two ball-and-socket joints, one on each side. These joints are similar to the joints of your hip and shoulder. When working properly, they allow the full range of movement necessary for chewing and talking. One element of the jaw joint, that makes it unique to other ball-and-socket joints, is that the ball of the joint regularly moves in and out of the socket during normal function. This movement allows the jaw to move side to side, and allows us to open our mouths widely.

Under normal conditions, the ball and socket portions of the joint do not touch; they are separated by a padding called a disc. The disc normally moves with the ball, maintaining its position with help of ligaments and muscles. In some situations, the disc may partially or completely slip out of place. This can cause the popping or clicking sound that you may hear when chewing or talking.


Is Jaw Clicking a Sign of TMD? 

Jaw clicking and popping is one of the primary symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Clicking and popping of the TMJ can occur infrequently, occasionally, or in some people each time the mouth is opened and closed. If the symptom occurs consistently, or with “sticking” of the jaw, there may be reason for concern. For some, a popping joint is only a nuisance. For others, it may be a sign of something more serious, deserving attention and treatment.

“Gravelly” noises in the jaw, or sounds accompanied with pain, swelling or stiffness, likely indicate a problem with your jaw joint. In any situation where your symptoms are causing persistent discomfort or leading to an interruption in your daily life, it’s important to seek professional help. Ignoring the signs of frequent jaw-popping and discomfort may lead to more permanent changes including limited opening, arthritis of the joint, or changes in the bite.

What Can Be Done About Jaw Popping? 

In the short-term, there are a few things you can do to encourage immediate relief:
  • Eat softer foods and avoid foods that are overly chewy or tough
  • Avoid uncontrolled stretching of your jaw with large bites or excessive yawning
  • Relax your jaw by maintaining a lips-together, teeth-apart posture to prevent clenching
  • Apply moist heat to help encourage muscle relaxation

In most cases, TMD can be treated through a combination of lifestyle changes and, for some patients, custom-fitted orthotic appliances designed to accommodate your bite and reduce stress on the jaw. Other non-surgical approaches may include stress reduction, stretching, massage, exercise, moist-heat application, the use of cold laser or ultrasound therapy, topical creams, or analgesic/anti-inflammatory medication.

If you are concerned about your TMJ health, we invite you to call and make an appointment to see Dr. Pettit at MedCenter TMJ for a complete jaw evaluation. We can begin the process of diagnosing your jaw issues based on your history, current symptoms, and careful examination of the jaw and facial muscles. At MedCenter TMJ, our focus is the treatment of temporomandibular dysfunction and chronic orofacial pain. It’s all we do!


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