One of the more common symptoms of TMJ disorder (also known as TMD) is a clicking or popping sound when you open and close your mouth. In this article, Leading Dentists dives into the reason that these jaw sounds occur, what the sounds may mean about your jaw joint (TMJ) and things you can do that may reduce jaw clicking and jaw popping.
What is the Difference Between Jaw Clicking and Popping Sounds?
First, let’s look at the two types of clicking sounds the jaw can make. The first one is a clicking sound that occurs when your jaw is open to its widest extent – such as in a big yawn or when you are chewing hard food. This type of clicking is the result of a partial dislocation (or subluxation) when the lower jawbone passes over a ridge in the upper jawbone. It happens normally due to the hyperextension of the lower jaw and doesn’t require any treatment unless there is significant pain associated with the sound.
However, there is a type of clicking or popping that can be more of a concern. These sounds accompany the displacement of the cartilage-like disc inside the TMJ (temporomandibular joint), which acts as connecting your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull.
This second type of clicking or popping often occurs when you are simply closing. It is caused by the disc slipping forward on the lower jawbone. When you open your mouth again, you may hear a louder popping sound as the disc settles back into position on the condyle (the knob at the end of a bone) of the lower jaw.
This problem can be both a nuisance and a source of pain. The ligament that controls the disc is stretched, and the muscles that control the jaw are affected by the problem.
How Can I Get My Jaw to Quiet Down!?
If the clicking and pain are recent occurrences, there are several things you can do to reduce or even eliminate the problem. First, try eating a diet of softer foods. Avoid bad oral habits like chewing gum and eating hard foods. Do not chew on non-food items such as pencils, pens or your fingernails.
Be conscious of times when you clench your jaw and aim to relax it by holding your lips together with your teeth apart or by pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth. This forces your jaw muscles to relax. You can also try TMJ exercises or other home remedies to improve the condition.
If you do not notice an improvement in your condition after treating your jaw well for a few weeks, you may need to seek professional help. Your clicking and popping sounds may be a sign of a bad bite. If the problem is left untreated, it could lead to inflammation, muscle strain and even arthritis or degeneration of the internal makeup of the jaw joint.
Who Should Treat A Badly Popping Jaw?
In the case that a professional assessment of the condition is required, such as if there is jaw pain or a locking jaw, find a trained dentist with a special focus in TMJ disorders. Neuromuscular Dentists are trained to asses the condition of a jaw, it’s alignment and the way that may impact the muscles connected to the TMJ.
They will examine your mouth, jaw and face, take x-rays and ask you a series of questions to determine what is happening with your jaw. Your dentist will use this information to determine any underlying causes for the sounds and the discomfort. These other issues could include sinus infection, a tooth abscess, ear infection, arthritis or an undiagnosed neurological condition.
If further imaging is necessary, your dentist may order an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (CAT scan) in order to make a correct diagnosis.
What Are Non Invasive Treatments for Jaw Sounds?
Your doctor should suggest conservative and non-invasive treatment options for TMJ unless there is an issue with the disc such as an internal derangement. Common non-invasive treatments may include:
- eating soft foods
- alternating warm moist heat with cold packs on the affected area
- avoiding excessive jaw movements , such as wide yawning, gum chewing or taking large bites of food
- exercising with gentle stretches
- practicing stress-reducing techniques, such as breathing exercises and meditation
- drinking plenty of water
- getting enough rest
A second step may be the use of a mouth guard, either full time or just while sleeping, to help keep the jaw in a relaxed position. Over time, use of the orthotic splint will help to reposition your jaw correctly and reduce symptoms resulting from a bad bite. TMJ jaw surgery should be considered only as a last resort.
Oxford University Hospitals recommend the following exercise to strengthen the ligaments around the jaw and to relax the muscles that close your mouth. Perform this five-minute exercise twice a day while sitting upright in a chair.
- Close your mouth, touching your upper and lower teeth together gently without clenching them. Use a mirror to make sure you teeth are closed straight, not side to side.
- Place the tip of your tongue on your palate behind your upper teeth.
- Run the tip of your tongue backwards toward your soft palate as far as you can go, while keeping your teeth together.
- Move your tongue back gently to maintain contact with the soft palate.
- Slowly open your mouth until you feel as if your tongue is being pulled away.
- Keep your mouth open in this position for five seconds.
- Close your mouth and relax.
- Repeat entire process slowly but firmly for five minutes.
Keep in mind that, you should feel some tension under your chin and in your neck as you open your mouth but you should not hear any clicking sounds. If you do hear clicks or pops, repeat the exercise from the first beginning until the sounds stop.
Do this exercise only twice a day for five minutes the first week. After then, your jaw will become accustomed to the new motion, and you may do the exercise as often as you like. These gentle exercises are designed to relax and to strengthen parts of your jaw, mouth and neck and can be useful in eliminating the problem of a clicking or popping jaw.
This and other TMJ exercises should not be painful. If they are painful, stop doing them immediately and consult a professional.
If you are in need of a trained neuromuscular dentist, you can find one locally by searching the Leading Dentist directory here.