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Jaw popping is a clicking sound from one or both temporomandibular joints (TMJs). TMJs are the sliding hinge joints that connect the jawbone to the skull. There’s one joint on each side of your jaw.
TMJs are complex joints. Their movement allows you to speak, chew, yawn, and swallow.
Painful jaw popping can result from TMJ dysfunction, also known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD) or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD). People commonly refer to both the joint and the disorder as TMJ.
About 11 to 12 million adults in the United States have experienced pain in the TMJ.3
Most of the time, the exact cause of jaw popping is unclear. Sometimes, the cause is excessive strain on the jaw muscles. Behaviors that can lead to jaw strain include:
These habits can be involuntary, like jaw clenching and teeth grinding.
Additionally, several medical conditions can lead to TMD, including:
TMD can begin after an injury, such as a dislocated or broken jaw. Common causes of jaw injuries include:
A broken or dislocated jaw requires immediate medical care. Seek medical attention if you sustain a jaw injury, especially if it involves bleeding, bruising, swelling, or bite changes.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are common degenerative joint diseases that affect the jaw. Arthritis damages the tissues in your TMJ, which can lead to dysfunction.
Other symptoms of arthritis include:
Myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) is a chronic pain disorder. It causes discomfort in the connective tissue that covers your muscles. MPS can develop in muscles that undergo repetitive use over time, such as the jaw.
Other MPS symptoms may include:
The two types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA). Both types can cause jaw popping.
Sleep apnea causes breathing interruptions during sleep. Other symptoms include:
If one or more glands in the mouth become infected, it may lead to jaw popping. Other signs and symptoms of an oral infection include:
Oral infections require prompt treatment. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
A tumor can develop in any part of the mouth. Depending on its location, a tumor may interfere with jaw motion and cause a popping or clicking sound. Some tumors can be malignant, or spread to other parts of the body.
Sometimes, jaw popping may be the only symptom. More often, TMD causes other symptoms, such as1:
TMD symptoms can resemble other health conditions. Your doctor or dentist can provide an accurate diagnosis.
Jaw popping that occurs without pain may not be a cause for concern. However, medical intervention may be necessary if the popping is due to an underlying health condition.
Depending on the cause of jaw popping, medical treatment may include:
If OTC medications fail to provide adequate relief, your doctor may prescribe a stronger drug. Prescription medications to treat TMD include:
An intraoral appliance is a device that fits over your teeth. They don’t modify your teeth or change your bite. Intraoral appliances are also known as:
There’s not much evidence that these appliances effectively relieve TMD pain. However, they can protect your teeth from the damage that behaviors such as clenching or grinding can cause.3 If an intraoral device causes pain, stop using it and consult your doctor or dentist.
Approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and biofeedback can help you recognize negative thoughts that may lead to jaw clenching. Working with a therapist can help you notice and stop unwanted behaviors and ultimately relax your jaw.
Studies show that complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), may relieve TMD pain and improve jaw function:3
Dental procedures and surgery are more complex than the treatments above. They may be considered a final option if all other treatments have failed.
In the past, medical professionals believed that misaligned teeth (malocclusion) were a cause of TMD. However, there’s no evidence to support this belief. Additionally, dental treatments that change the position of your teeth may worsen the problem.3
In some cases, TMJ problems are treated with simple home care. Home remedies for TMJ disorders include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen may reduce swelling and relieve jaw pain.
Applying an ice pack to your jaw for 10 to 15 minutes, followed by a heat pack for 5 to 10 minutes, may relieve TMD symptoms. You can alternate hot and cold therapy several times a day as needed.
Keeping your jaw as relaxed as possible can also help. Do this by holding your jaw slightly open, leaving a small gap between your teeth. Placing the tip of your tongue at the roof of your mouth can help with this.
Stress management techniques may reduce symptoms related to jaw clenching and grinding. Effective techniques include:
Physical therapy may include various stretches and exercises that target the TMJ. Facial massage may also improve jaw function and relieve pain.
Soft foods, such as cooked vegetables and smoothies, cause less jaw strain. Avoid hard, crunchy, or chewy foods like raw vegetables, candy, and chewing gum.
Women are twice as likely as men to experience jaw popping related to TMD. The condition is more prevalent among people aged 30 to 50.7
Most cases of painful jaw popping are temporary and resolve with home remedies or nonsurgical treatments.5
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