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When A Clicking Jaw Is A Sign Of TMD

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Are you experiencing jaw clicking? Jaw popping? Or some irritating noise from your jaw, aka your temporomandibular joint (TMJ)? Relax, you're not alone. TMJ complications affect over 10 million people, according to the National Institute of Craniofacial Research (NICR). Chances are, your clicking jaw isn't permanent. But it's wise to be sure it's not a serious temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).

How Does Your TMJ Work

It's pretty amazing actually what the TMJ can do. Its rare flexibility allows the jaw to move effortlessly up and down and side to side. By connecting your mandible, or lower jaw, to the temporal bones at the side of your head, according to the Merck Manual, the TMJ provides the range of motion needed to talk, chew, yawn, and of course — open wide for your dentist. Allowing for the smooth movement when we open and close our mouth is a soft cartilage disc within the joint socket that absorbs all the pressure.

What Causes TMD

There are several reasons your jaw is clicking, causing TMD. Each varies in seriousness and discomfort. They include:

  • A severe blow or significant trauma to the bone
  • A dislocation or displaced disc
  • Various types of arthritis
  • Clenching and grinding of the teeth

Some experts feel mental or physical stress could cause or irritate TMD, as well. It's also important to note that women may be more susceptible to TMD as the collagen holding the socket's disk is anatomically different in women.

What Are The Symptoms of TMD

Many symptoms link to TMD. However, pain in the chewing muscles and/or jaw joint is the most common symptom. Other symptoms include:

  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw
  • Radiating pain in the face, neck, or shoulders
  • Painful clicking, popping, or grating sounds in the jaw joint when opening/closing
  • A sudden change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
  • Possibly headaches, earaches, dizziness, and hearing issues

Often TMJ discomfort is just that — uncomfortable. Thus, it may not necessarily be TMD and usually disappears over time. However, if you experience any persistent and debilitating symptoms, contact your dentist immediately.

How Do You Diagnosis TMD

Unfortunately, diagnosing TMD isn't a clear-cut process. There are, however, many avenues you and your dentist can take to determine if your jaw clicking is, in fact, TMD. They include:

  • Providing your dental and medical history
  • Explaining your symptoms in detail
  • Listening for the clicking/popping or grating during jaw movement
  • Performing a careful examination while observing the movement of your jaw and feel for tightness or tenderness in the facial muscles
  • Performing a panoramic X-ray
  • When arthritis or significant pain persists, and symptoms do not improve with treatment:
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • Cat scan (CT)

Usually, a patient's description of symptoms, combined with a simple physical examination of the face and jaw, provides information useful for diagnosing these disorders and what treatment, if any, is needed.

How Do You Get Relief From TMD

Fortunately, there an array of remedies for your jaw clicking TMD. Some simple, some much more invasive. They include:

  • Eating soft foods
  • Applying heat or ice packs
  • Avoiding extreme jaw movements (yawning, singing, gum chewing, etc.)
  • Learning special techniques for relaxing and reducing stress
  • Performing gentle muscle stretching and relaxing exercises
  • Taking short-term muscle-relaxing and anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Using a splint or plastic guard that fits over the upper or lower teeth to reduce clenching or grinding
  • In the most extreme cases:
    • Surgery or injections that invade the tissues by injecting pain-relieving medications into painful muscle areas

Most jaw clicking issues find relief with a mix of the above and rarely require more extreme options.

How Do You Keep Your TMJ Healthy

Regular brushing, cleaning between your teeth, and dental exams will help keep your oral health in a good place. Help keep your TMJ healthy by:

  • Refraining from overextending your jaw
  • Avoiding excessive and frequent jaw movements
  • Refraining from biting on hard objects
  • Avoiding chewy/hard/crunchy food items
  • Wearing a mouthguard at night to help the clenching/grinding

Now you should know all about TMDs, how to help relieve your TMJ pain, and keeping it healthy going forward. Remember to see your dentist if pain and discomfort from your jaw clicking persists.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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