Ever open your mouth only to have your jaw pop like a popcorn kernel in hot butter, click like the latch on the garden gate, or grate and grind like it was trying to shave itself down a size? Perhaps your jaw has gotten “locked” and then suddenly and painfully “popped” open?
If you’ve ever had this happen to you, it’s almost certainly a sign that you are affected by TMD, a disorder of the temporomandibular (jaw) joint that causes this and many other symptoms.
How is TMD Connected to Clicking, Popping, and Grating in the Jaw?
TMD can be caused by a variety of things, including your genes, the anatomy of your jaw itself, a misalignment of your teeth, and even grinding your teeth while asleep. These are often made worse by stress or anxiety and all are a sign that your lower jaw is closing to a pathologic or bad final position.
These factors can have painful consequences for your temporomandibular joint, where your jaw meets your skull, when the muscles attached to it become aggravated and can cramp or seize.
That popping sensation and clicking noise are actually the jaw joint releasing from the skull. When the interior portions of the joint become inflamed and aggravated, they can swell, blocking the amount of space the mandible has to move inside the skull. When the mandible is released it has to force its way through the inflamed tissues. This is the popping and clicking that you hear—the tissues releasing and resuming their positions. The grinding/grating sensation is caused by the two halves of the joint moving against one another after the cartilage cushion has been destroyed. If left untreated, the condition can worsen until the jaw “locks,” making it very difficult to move without severe pain.
How Can You Relieve Clicking, Popping, and Grating in the Jaw?
TMD is a serious condition that should be treated by a neuromuscular dentist, many of whom are listed online and which your physician or ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) may know of. Popping, clicking and grinding can indicate TMD, and you should get it checked out before the problem worsens.
Along with seeing a neuromuscular dentist, there are some steps you can take at home to help.
- Reduce Inflammation: Since these sensations are caused by inflammation in the joint, the best home remedy is an anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drug like ibuprofen. You can also try a heating pad or warm compress held against your affected jaw joint. But this is a progressive deterioration, so getting it evaluated is your surest long-term strategy for relief.
- Change pain-causing habits: Some patients find relief from modifying their behavior as well, consciously avoiding irritating activities like gum chewing or resting their head in their hand on a table or desk. Your TMD dentist can build an orthotic, it looks like an athlete’s mouthguard, to prevent you from doing the things that are causing your difficulty.Just like a knee brace keeps your knee from moving in dangerous ways, this orthotic will support proper function of your jaw.
You don’t have to live with jaw pain or let it get worse, and you don’t have to give up if your current physician, ENT and dentist haven’t been able to help you. Seek the help of a neuromuscular dentist so that you can identify the best possible treatment for your case. Relief is on its way!