You're in the middle of a yawn when it happens. Click. Your jaw decides that it's going to click, and it could be followed by pain. A clicking jaw is the symptom of several types of medical issues. Understanding the different conditions helps you talk to your dentist so they can start you on the right treatment plan.
Symptoms of a Clicking or Popping Jaw
The sound of a clicking jaw is unmistakable. It may feel more like it's temporarily popping out of place in your mouth, depending on the severity of the problem. Other than pain, some symptoms that you could encounter when this occurs include:
- The joint feeling jammed open
- The jaw feeling like it's shifted out of place
- Inability to open or close your mouth
- Tender areas on your jaw or mouth
- Soreness or stiffness in your head, neck or jaw
- Facial swelling
- Pain or pressure in your teeth
Why Your Jaw Clicks
The joints of your jaw are called temporomandibular joints. This hinge-point makes it possible to open and close your mouth, but when you have a problem here, it's referred to as temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
Approximately 10 million people suffer from this type of disorder. The cause may come from a repetitive behavior or a medical condition. For example, if you frequently bite your nails, clench your jaw, bite your mouth or lips, or even chew gum, you could be straining the muscles and joints until it begins popping.
The medical conditions that have jaw popping as a symptom include:
- Arthritis: Since this condition potentially impacts all of your joints, your jaw may pop as the cartilage breaks down.
- Tumors: A benign or cancerous tumor could develop near the jaw. It may impede the regular motion of the joint or push it out of place.
- Wisdom tooth position: Some people have wisdom teeth that push various parts of the mouth and jaw out of position.
- Broken or dislocated jaw: The entire jawbone may be involved or simply the joint. Normal function is painful or it could be impossible to achieve.
- Over- and under bites: Similar to the wisdom tooth problem, any other alignment issues with your teeth could lead to your jaw popping.
How to Treat a Clicking Jaw
The treatments range from at-home to in-patient surgery, depending on the condition and severity of the problem. Typically, jaws that pop without any other symptoms are unlikely to be the sign of something more serious. You may need to make some lifestyle changes, such as getting a mouth guard or using relaxation methods to stop from clenching.
When you have pain or an apparent cause for jaw popping, such as an injury, it's time to involve medical professionals. Some conditions fall under a doctor's care, while others may require a dentist instead. If you feel that the jaw issues primarily involve your teeth, such as a misaligned bite, then your dentist can provide the specialized care you need.
If another medical condition is involved, your primary care physician or a specialist in that area can develop a treatment plan for you. You may need to take supplements for joint weakness, go to physical therapy, have diagnostic testing done to determine the underlying illness or have surgery to fix your jaw or remove a tumor.
Don't dismiss jaw popping as "no big deal." Make an appointment with your dentist to get to the bottom of this irritating issue.