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Updated on September 14, 2022

Jaw Popping - Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

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Overview

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

focused shot on man touching jaw

Why is My Jaw Popping?

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:

  • Grinding teeth (bruxism)
  • Chewing gum too often
  • Clenching the jaw
  • Biting nails, lips, or cheeks

These habits can be involuntary, like jaw clenching and teeth grinding.

Additionally, several medical conditions can lead to TMD, including:

Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS)

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:

  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood changes
  • Painful knots or trigger points in the muscles

Jaw Injury

TMD can begin after an injury, such as a dislocated or broken jaw. Common causes of jaw injuries include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Sports injuries
  • Trips and falls
  • Physical assaults

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.

Arthritis

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:

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Inflammation or swelling
  • Restricted range of motion

Sleep Apnea

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:

  • Snoring
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Mood changes

Infection

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:

  • Dry mouth
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Swelling or inflammation
  • Facial pain

Oral infections require prompt treatment. Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Tumor

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. 

Other Symptoms of Jaw Popping

Sometimes, jaw popping may be the only symptom. More often, TMD causes other symptoms, such as1:

  • Jaw pain or soreness
  • Headaches
  • Earaches or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Pain that spreads to the face, neck, shoulders, back, or behind the eyes
  • Jaw locking
  • Limited jaw movement
  • Teeth grinding or clenching
  • Dizziness
  • Teeth sensitivity that isn’t due to an oral health issue
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers
  • Changes in the alignment of the upper and lower teeth

TMD symptoms can resemble other health conditions. Your doctor or dentist can provide an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment for TMJ Problems

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.

In some cases, TMJ problems are treated with simple home care.

Home Remedies

Home remedies for TMJ disorders include:

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medication

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen may reduce swelling and relieve jaw pain.

Heat and Ice Packs

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.

Relaxation Techniques

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:

  • Meditation
  • Breathwork
  • Physical exercise

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy may include various stretches and exercises that target the TMJ. Facial massage may also improve jaw function and relieve pain.

Eating Soft Foods

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. 

Professional Treatment

Depending on the cause of jaw popping, medical treatment may include:

Prescription Medications

If OTC medications fail to provide adequate relief, your doctor may prescribe a stronger drug. Prescription medications to treat TMD include:

  • Opioids
  • Antidepressants
  • Anxiolytics
  • Anti-seizure medications

Intraoral Appliances

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:

  • Occlusal splints
  • Interocclusal splints
  • Bruxism splints
  • Stabilization appliances

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.

Behavioral Health Approaches

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.

Complementary Therapies

Studies show that complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), may relieve TMD pain and improve jaw function:3

  • Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body
  • TENS is a battery-powered device that sends electrical impulses through the skin

Dental Procedures and Surgery

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

What is the Outlook for Jaw Popping?

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

Summary

  • Painful jaw popping may be due to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  • Jaw popping without pain may not require treatment
  • TMJ dysfunction is also known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD) or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD)
  • Jaw popping typically resolves with home care
  • If an underlying condition causes jaw popping, medical treatments may be needed
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on September 14, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Temperomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD),” Cedars-Sinai, n.d.
  2. Why Does My Jaw Pop When I Yawn?,” MedCenter TMJ, n.d.
  3. TMD (Temperomandibular Disorders),” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Jan 2022.
  4. Temperomandibular Disorder (TMD),” Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d.
  5. TMJ disorders,” Mayo Clinic, n.d.
  6. More Than Jaw Pain - TMJ Disorders Explained,” NIH News in Health, Sep 2020.
  7. Prevalence of TMJD and its Signs and Symptoms,” National INstitute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Jul 2018.
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