Does your jaw click or pop when you yawn, chew food, or open your mouth? Or are you experiencing some distressing sounds from your jaw, also known as your temporomandibular joint (TMJ)? There’s no need to fear, you’re not the only one. TMJ complications affect over 10 million people, according to the National Institute of Craniofacial Research (NICR). Odds are very good that your clicking jaw isn’t permanent, but it’s wise to be sure it’s not a serious temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
This condition occurs when the jaw muscles become weak and cause the jaw to click when opening and closing. It is caused by lack of use and overuse of the jaw muscles. It is often seen in people who have not been using their jaws for a long time. If left untreated, a clicking jaw may lead to TMJ disorders (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder).
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located at the base of the skull just above the ear. It connects the skull to the lower jaw bone and consists of two parts: the condyle and the fossa. The condyle is shaped like a ball and fits into the fossa. When the jaw opens, the condyle moves forward and backward inside the fossa. The movement of the condyle is called mandibular mobility. TMJ disorders affect many people each year. There are two types of TMJ disorders: TMD and myofascial pain syndrome (MPS). Both conditions involve inflammation of the muscles and soft tissue around the joints. However, MPS does not cause any damage to the bones.
Causes of TMJ Dysfunction
There are many causes of TMJ dysfunction including trauma, injury, infection, arthritis, tumors, and dental problems. Trauma may cause damage to the muscles, ligaments, and joints of the face and neck. Injury may occur due to falls, car accidents, sports injuries, and work-related incidents. Infection may result from tooth decay, gum disease, and infections of the mouth and throat. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage between bones becomes inflamed. Tumors may develop if there is swelling or inflammation of the soft tissue around the jaw joint. Dental problems may lead to pain and discomfort in the jaw area.
Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction
Symptoms of TMJ dysfunction include pain in the jaw area, headaches, earaches, difficulty chewing food, and clicking sounds in the jaw. If the symptoms persist over time, they may indicate a serious problem.
If you feel tired all the time, then you may have TMJ dysfunction. Your jaw muscles need to work harder than normal to chew food, speak, yawn, smile, and sleep. When they do not get enough rest, they become sore and stiff.
Headaches are a common symptom of TMJ dysfunction. The pain comes from the pressure of the jaw muscles working overtime.
When you open your mouth wide, you will notice that your jaw feels tight. This is due to the fact that your jaw muscles are being strained.
The neck is where your head meets your spine. If you experience neck pain, then you may have a problem with your TMJ.
Sleeping problems are often caused by TMJ dysfunction. If you wake up feeling exhausted, then you may have this issue.
Treatment options for TMJ dysfunction depend on the underlying cause. In cases where there is no apparent cause, treatment may involve physical therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Physical therapy involves exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the face and neck and improve posture. Medication may help relieve pain and reduce muscle spasms. Lifestyle changes may include avoiding activities that aggravate pain, eating less sugar, and drinking plenty of water. Surgery may be considered for severe cases of TMJ.
A clicking in your jaw is an uncomfortable and potentially scary experience, but there’s usually no cause for real alarm. It is certainly something to keep track of, investigate further, and notify a physician or dentist if the condition doesn’t remedy itself. It’s most likely not a serious condition, but a professional opinion is always helpful and reassuring.