Original Article By Jayne Leonard
Jaw popping refers to a clicking sound from the jaw, which can be accompanied by sensations of pain.
Sometimes jaw popping can arise from overextending the jaw, such as by opening the mouth too wide when yawning or eating. At other times, it results from problems in the functioning of the temporomandibular joints or the joints that connect the jawbone to the sides of the skull.
Dysfunction of these joints is known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD) or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), although the condition may be incorrectly referred to as TMJ.
Fast facts on jaw popping:
- Jaw popping without accompanying pain is not typically a cause for concern.
- If certain health conditions underlie the popping, medical intervention may be needed.
- The cause of jaw popping is not completely understood.
- Jaw popping can often be treated at home, especially if there is no pain or other symptoms.
A clicking of popping sound in the jaw may be a sign of temporomandibular disorder.
Jaw popping may be the only symptom experienced. However, TMD can often cause other symptoms as well, including:
- pain and discomfort
- tenderness in the face or jaw
- difficulty opening the mouth wide
- jaws that “lock” in an open or closed position
- difficulty eating
- facial swelling
- neck ache
TMD is thought to arise from issues with the jaw muscles or the temporomandibular joints (TMJs).
According to the National Institute of Craniofacial Research, TMD affects over 10 million people, with women having it more often than men.
However, anyone of any age or gender can experience jaw popping, which may be linked to behaviors such as:
- grinding the teeth
- chewing gum regularly or excessively
- clenching the jaw
- biting the inside of the cheek or lip
Also, several medical conditions can lead to jaw popping, including:
Arthritis is a disease of the joints. Two of the most common forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, both of which can result in cartilage damage in the TMJ.
Destruction of the TMJ cartilage tissue can make jaw movements difficult and can cause a popping sound and clicking sensation in the joint.
Other symptoms of arthritis include:
- joint pain
- inflammation or swelling
- a reduced range of motion
Also, people with rheumatoid arthritis may experience fatigue and appetite loss.
Injury to the jaw
Nail-biting, teeth grinding, and frequent chewing of gum may be associated with jaw popping.
A broken or dislocated jaw, which happens when the joint of the jaw becomes unhinged, can cause jaw popping.
Common causes of injury to the jaw include:
- road traffic collisions
- sporting injuries
- trips and falls
- physical assaults
It is important to seek medical treatment for a jaw injury, particularly if accompanied by:
Myofascial pain syndrome
Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic pain disorder that causes pain in certain trigger points of some muscles. It occurs after a muscle is contracted repetitively over time. Therefore, it may affect those that have jobs or engage in sporting activities that require repetitive movement.
Myofascial pain syndrome in the jaw can lead to jaw popping.
Symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome include:
- muscular pain
- persistent or progressive pain
- tender points in muscle
- sleep difficulties
- changes in mood
Sleep apnea is a common disorder characterized by shallow breathing or one or more pauses in breathing, during sleep.
There are two forms of sleep apnea called obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Both can cause jaw popping.
Some of the symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- daytime sleepiness
- mood disorders
People with obstructive sleep apnea may also snore in their sleep.
As sleep apnea can increase the risk of several serious conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and obesity, people with sleep problems should seek immediate medical treatment.
Malocclusion of the teeth
Also known as an overbite or underbite, malocclusion of the teeth causes misalignment of the jaw and the mouth. This can lead to jaw popping or clicking.
Malocclusion of the teeth will usually require professional orthodontic treatment.
In some cases, jaw popping is caused by an infection of the glands of the mouth.
Other signs and symptoms of oral infections include:
- dry mouth
- a bad taste in the mouth
- facial pain
Antibiotics or other treatments may be necessary to treat oral infections.
A nightguard may be prescribed to help prevent tooth grinding while sleeping.
Depending on the cause of the jaw popping or the presence of other medical conditions, professional interventions may be necessary for some cases.
Treatment options include:
- Medication: High doses of NSAIDs, muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety drugs, or antidepressants may be prescribed by a doctor or dentist to manage TMD.
- Mouthpieces: A splint or nightguard may be used to prevent or manage clenching or grinding of the teeth. These devices can also treat malocclusion of the teeth.
- Dental work: Overbites, underbites, and other dental issues may be addressed through dental work to reduce jaw popping.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): Using electrical currents, TENS relaxes the muscles of the jaw and face to relieve pain.
- Pain-relieving injections: For people with myofascial pain syndrome, injections into trigger points may provide relief from jaw pain.
- Ultrasound: Applying heat to the joint may improve jaw mobility and stop the pain.
- Laser therapy or radio wave therapy: These treatments stimulate movement and ease pain in the jaw, mouth, and neck.
- Surgery: This is usually the last resort for people with jaw popping. The type of surgery required will depend on the underlying issue.
For anyone considering surgery for jaw popping symptoms, they should get a second or third opinion before going through with this treatment.
Usually, jaw popping is a temporary condition that clears up with at-home treatments and lifestyle changes.
However, people who experience jaw popping that persists, worsens, recurs, or is accompanied by pain or other symptoms, should consult their doctor. It is important to address the underlying cause of jaw popping to prevent other complications from arising.
New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.
New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.
Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.
If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.