Jaw Popping and Pain: Causes, Treatment, and Outlook

causes of jaw popping and pain

Have you ever had the experience when your jaw clicks or pops when you eat, speak, or yawn? This experience might have felt weird or gave you a little scare. However, jaw popping and pain can be a pretty common occurrence, and it affects more people than you think. But due to it being common, there are also a lot of misconceptions and wrong assumptions about its cause and the ways to treat it. 

In this guide, you will learn more about how to effectively deal with jaw popping and what you can do if you experience some type of pain.

 

What is Jaw Popping?

As mentioned above, jaw popping is when you hear a clicking or popping sound in your jaw joints when you perform usual movements involving the jaw (such as speaking, eating, chewing, or yawning). The presence of a painful sensation is caused by a dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint known as TMJ.

These joints, there is one on each side, help connect the jawbone to the skull. This hinge action enables you to perform basic tasks with your jaw such as chew, eat, or talk. When there is a dysfunction in these joints, it results in that popping sound and pain, to some extent. 

Jaw popping is manifested with a variety of symptoms such as pain and discomfort in the jaw area, difficulty opening your mouth wide, locking or stiffness of the jaw, difficulty eating, pain when yawning, ear aches, and headaches, to name a few. 

Causes of Jaw Popping and Pain

So, what causes your jaw to pop and the pain that comes with it? There are several things that can cause jaw popping and pain, here are some of them.

1. Malocclusion

This is a result of having misaligned teeth and it can lead to jaw popping and pain. There are several types of malocclusion such as an underbite, overbite, open bite, and crowded teeth. This is usually treated using braces and various orthodontic treatment options. Make sure to consult with your orthodontist about the treatment options to avoid recurring jaw popping.

2. Myofascial pain syndrome

This is a condition that leads to chronic pain in the musculoskeletal system. The pain is usually concentrated in one area and can lead to popping of the jaw. Those who suffer from this condition have trigger or sensitive spots. 

3. Clenching the Jaw

A lot of people have the habit of clenching their jaws during sleep. This habit can cause tension to your jaw joints, which can eventually cause it to pop or click when you move your jaw joints. The extent of the pain associated with this can range from moderate to severe. 

4. Arthritis

Arthritis is another common cause that is linked to jaw popping and pain. When you have arthritis, it can damage the cartilage in the temporomandibular joint. There are two specific types of arthritis that can cause jaw popping: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. If you have been diagnosed with any of these two, it makes your jaws more prone to popping.

5. Dislocated Jaw

A dislocated or broken jaw due to trauma or injury can lead to popping and pain in your jaw area. The jaw can become dislocated when the joint is unhinged. If this is what is causing your jaws to pop, then you need to treat it properly.  

6. Infection

Infection that has affected the salivary gland can also cause jaw popping and TMJ issues. This is especially true when the infection has spread to the inside of each cheek, underneath the jawbone, and under the tongue. It can also prevent you from fully opening your mouth. 

You know when you have an infection when your mouth is swollen, there is a foul taste inside your mouth, and there is a presence of pus in the mouth. In the event of infection in the salivary glands, make sure you treat them immediately. 

jaw popping and pain possible causes and treatment

Jaw Popping and Pain: Should You Be Worried? 

Luckily for those suffering from jaw popping and pain, there are many treatment options available and the prognosis is good. The treatment will depend on the associated cause for the problem, therefore, it is important that you consult with an expert about the cause so it can be treated accordingly. 

There are a variety of home treatments that you can try to relieve pain associated with jaw popping. Here are some of those:

  • Take OTC medications to relieve pain (if the pain in the jaw becomes too much to bear). 
  • Apply an ice pack to the area for about 15 minutes and then follow with a heat pack. Do this several times during the day. 
  • Refrain from eating hard or crunchy food that can put more pressure on your jaws. 
  • Use relaxation techniques for the jaw to ease tension and pressure. 
  • Avoid overextending the jaw, such as opening it too wide or yawning too wide.
  • Physical therapy can provide relief from pain associated with jaw popping. You can seek the help of a physical therapist for this so they can recommend the ideal treatment plan for you. 

In addition to these home remedies, you can also obtain medical care for your jaw popping problem. The recommended treatments include wearing mouthpieces, dental work (wearing braces or other orthodontic devices), laser and radio wave therapy, and pain-relieving injections, depending on what other symptoms are present (or if there are any risks pertaining to medical conditions). Surgery is considered as a last resort and is only required when there are other more serious underlying conditions. This is only recommended if any of the other medical options have been exhausted and you are still suffering from pain due to jaw popping. 

Jaw popping and pain is mostly temporary. However, you should not take it lightly and still consult with an expert just in case it is an indicator of a more serious problem. When you have this problem, it will typically require some lifestyle changes along with a few home treatments (such as the ones suggested above). 

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Dr. Manish Shah tmj and sleep specialist

Dr. Manish Shah

  • BDS, MBBS, MMED (Sleep Medicine)
  • Masters in Sleep Medicine
  • General Medical Practitioner
  • General, Implant and Cosmetic Dentist
  • Certified in TMJ & Craniofacial Pain Management
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