Why Does My Jaw Always Pop?

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Why Does My Jaw Always Pop?

Millions of people live with chronic TMJ dysfunction and pain, a distressing problem that can make it hard to eat and speak normally. The first sign of a developing TMJ disorder? Often, it’s a painless popping sensation in the jaw joint.

Place your fingers on either side of your face, just in front of your ears, and open your mouth. You’re feeling your temporomandibular joints (TMJs) — or the sliding hinge joints that connect either side of your jawbone to your skull — in action.  

Healthy jaw joints don’t require a second thought: They function as expected, allowing you to speak, sing, yawn, and chew normally. But when either of your TMJs develop a problem, the discomfort can limit jaw movement and make it hard to chew normally or speak coherently. 

The first sign of a developing TMJ disorder? For many, it’s a painless, abnormal popping sensation in the jaw joint. If your jaw is constantly popping, schedule a visit with experienced dentists Krystle Fenton, DDS, and Benjamin Radlein, DDS, at Laguna Vista Dental in Elk Grove, California.

Here, they explain everything you need to know about TMJ dysfunction, including the benefits of early treatment. 

Early warning signs of TMJ dysfunction

A TMJ disorder often begins as an audible clicking or popping sensation when you talk, chew, or open your mouth. As disconcerting as these sounds and sensations are, they’re usually painless initially. They’re also your first warning sign of an impending jaw problem.   

Eventually, most cases of jaw popping or clicking begin to progress, generating some degree of jaw tenderness or facial pain, which may be accompanied by periods of sharp, acute pain in one or both jaw joints. 

Complications of TMJ disorder progression

Up to 12 million adults in the United States live with chronic TMJ pain and dysfunction, or the worsening symptoms that can occur without early detection and treatment. The top signs of TMJ disorder progression include:  

  • Radiating jaw, face, or neck pain
  • Difficulty or pain while chewing 
  • Increased tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Tenderness near one or both ears
  • Extremely stiff or tight jaw muscles

Advanced TMJ pain and stiffness aren’t just irritating, it’s also concerning — particularly if it becomes difficult to eat or talk. Left untreated, TMJ dysfunction may progress even further, causing minimal jaw movement, chronic headaches, or permanent bite misalignment. 

Understanding how TMJ problems develop

Anything that strains, impairs, degrades, or damages any part of your jaw joint — from the cartilage that cushions its socket to the shock-absorbing disc that facilitates fluid jawbone movement — can cause a TMJ disorder. Problems that can lead to TMJ dysfunction include:

  • Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism)
  • A long-standing bite misalignment
  • Arthritis-related joint degeneration 
  • Joint disc erosion or misalignment
  • Impact-induced joint or disc damage

While our team can often determine the underlying cause of TMJ dysfunction, some TMJ issues develop without an obvious or readily identifiable root cause.  

Get to know your treatment options for TMJ 

If we suspect you may have an emerging TMJ problem based on your jaw popping and other reported initial symptoms, we’ll perform a comprehensive oral evaluation to verify its existence and determine its origin. This may include assessing your jaw joints for:

  • Signs of abnormal joint erosion
  • Muscle tenderness and inflammation 
  • Strength and range of motion status
  • Observable clicking and popping 

A dental X-ray can check for signs of arthritis; a CT scan can reveal any problematic discs if necessary. Having an accurate diagnosis is the first step in creating a treatment plan that will be able to effectively address your emerging TMJ disorder and stop its progression. 

Conservative care

In most cases, TMJ dysfunction responds well to a combination of noninvasive, conservative care solutions. Over-the-counter pain relievers can remove persistent pain and help you sleep better at night; ice packs or moist heat can also provide effective short-term relief. 

Resting your jaws

Resting your jaw joints can ease or help prevent inflammation and pain; switching to a soft food diet for a few weeks can help your jaw relax; gently massaging your TMJs and stretching your jaw muscles every day can keep them more relaxed as time goes on. 

Custom night guard

If grinding your teeth is part of your TMJ problem — as it is for many people — we’ll prescribe a custom oral appliance (mouthguard) for you to wear when you sleep. In addition to reducing stress on your TMJs, wearing a mouthguard can protect your teeth and your bite. 

If you need to get to the bottom of unexplained jaw popping, we can help. Call or click to request an appointment at our Elk Grove, California, office today.