Exploring TMJ Disorder Symptoms: Crepitus
“Why is my jaw popping?”
Do you experience clicking, cracking and popping when your jaw opens or closes? Sometimes we all experience temporary jaw sounds. “Crepitus” is the medical term for any clicking, popping or grinding sound that emanates from a joint and, in many cases, it is the result from pressure causing movement and a release of nitrogen gas and bursting synovial fluid. Again, any of these symptoms can be one-time experiences or temporary annoyances.
However, in other cases these sounds can be a symptom of an underlying, more severe issue in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This article will cover the differences between jaw popping that may be associated with TMJD and normal joint functions.
In a fascinating study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, scientists actually recorded the jaws of their patients. In the study, three dentists listened to and classified the sound recordings as 1) no sound, 2) click, 3) coarse crepitus and 4) fine crepitus. The sounds were recorded with microphones in the ear canal from 126 subjects during vertical opening. The recordings were then digitized and replayed using a computer sound card and speakers.
The dentists found that the sounds made by the jaws of patients with TMJ Disorders were “significantly different” than the sounds made by those without the condition.
Further, studies by dentist/author Rickne Scheid showed that over one-third of his students had some sort of signs of the sound in one side of their jaws. This means that not every case of jaw popping and jaw noise points to a TMJ Disorder. However, jaw noises can be a sign that there could be degeneration to the articular disc or a structural issue with the TMJ that could lead to a disorder in the future.
How Do I know if My Jaw Popping is a Sign of a TMJ Disorder?
If your jaw is popping or making noises, is it also coupled with any of the following symptoms?
- Pain: If your jaw pops and the experience is also painful, you may have more going on than a temporary symptom.
- Lockjaw: If your jaw locks in place when it pops open or closed, you should definitely seek a TMJ dentist’s opinion on your condition. (See below for tips on finding a qualified neuromuscular dentist.)
- Consistent occurrence: Does the popping happen frequently and often during the same types of activities (such as yawning or chewing)? The consistency of the experience may point to a larger jaw issue.
Why Do Jaws Pop?
The temporomandibular joints are the points at which the lower jaw (the mandible) attaches to the skull.
They are among the most complex joints in the human anatomy. If you place your fingers on the sides of your face, just in front of your ears, and open and close your mouth, you can feel the movement of the mandible in the temporomandibular joints. That is often where jaw popping and noises originate, caused by one of the following:
- The head of the mandible causing pressure on the articular disc and causes the sounds.
- The joint capsule is pressured causing a popping.
- The cartilage in the TMJ has worn down and is causing a grinding noise.
What Should I do if My Jaw Pops?
If you are experiencing popping or a locked jaw, you should see a neuromuscular dentist. He or she will use one of the following techniques to diagnose your condition:
- CT or CAT Scans can provide detail on the bones in the joint and surrounding areas, the sinuses, and the brain.
- MRI shows the soft tissues including the disc and muscles. MRIs can also be taken with the mouth open and closed to show positioning of the disc and muscles in relation to the joints.
- Tomography is a type of x-ray that shows cross sections of the jaw area.
- Other routine dental x-rays can be used to diagnose TMJ disorder that provide views of the head, joint, teeth, and surrounding areas.
What are the Treatments for Jaw Popping?
The neuromuscular dentist may provide you with one of the following treatment regimens, depending on the severity of your condition:
- Pain relievers
- Tricyclic antidepressants, also used for pain relief.
- Muscle relaxants
- Bite guards (oral splints)
- Physical therapy
Surgical or other procedures
- Arthrocentesis. This procedure involves the insertion of needles into the joint so that fluid can be irrigated through the joint to remove debris and inflammatory byproducts.
- Injections, such as corticosteroids
Jaw popping may be related to a bigger issue with your jaw joints. In order to be sure, seek the advice of a neuromuscular dentist. Finding a qualified specialist in your area is easy on Leading Dentists search page
- Quantitative description of temporomandibular joint sounds: defining clicking, popping, egg shell crackling and footsteps on gravel. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11380788
- Academy of General Dentistry, http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=s&iid=334&aid=1349