Snap, Crackle, Pop: Why Does My Jaw Clicking?

You can snap your fingers, click your tongue, clap your hands, or crack your knuckles, but one part that should not be joining the rhythm section is your jaw. If your jaw makes noise when you open or close your mouth, it may indicate a larger problem called TMD. Let’s break down what that is, and if anything should be done about it. “TMD” stands for “temporomandibular disorder.”

Whoa whoa whoa, big words. What is temporomandibular?

The joint that connects the lower jaw with the skull is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Can you say that 10 times fast? No wonder we shortened it to “TMJ!”

So what is TMD?

“TMD” is short for “temporomandibular disorder.” TMD means something is wrong with this joint. A piece of cartilage is supposed to cushion where the bones meet. If this cartilage isn’t doing its job, you may experience discomfort and hear a popping sound when opening and closing your mouth, among other symptoms. The clicking sound indicates the jaw joints are dislocated, and the problem may get worse. The clicking sound is the top of the lower jaw slipping on and off the disc. As the TMD progresses, though, you will start to hear a grating sound. This is the sound of bone rubbing on bone when the disc is completely deformed and there is no protective cushion at the joint. As that gets worse, your jaw could end up locking in an open or closed position.

So an easier way to break the progression down might be:

The Snap: A clicking sound when you open and close your jaw.
The Crackle: A grinding sound as it progresses.
The Pop: Your jaw locks open or closed—a painful condition you want to avoid!

Does clicking mean I have TMD?

Your jaw can click without TMD, so clicking by itself might not mean you have a problem. Since clicking is an early stage of TMD (before grating and before jaw locking), it is best to diagnose the TMJ disorder early. This way you avoid the extremely painful situation of your jaw locking and give yourself the best chance of recovery.

What other symptoms might indicate TMD?

Symptoms of TMD can masquerade as other conditions and might not make you think of your jaw when you try to narrow down the problem. Other jaw related symptoms include:

• Pain or tired jaws when chewing
• Difficulty closing the teeth together
• Limited jaw opening
• Jaw locking

TMD symptoms that don’t at first appear related to the jaw include:
• Headaches
• Earaches, ringing, or congestion in the ears
• Neck pain or stiffness
• Dizziness and fainting
• Numbness in hands
• Difficulty swallowing

So clicking in addition to any of the above symptoms would be a good reason to schedule a consultation to get the problem diagnosed. The good news is, you can schedule a free consultation to either get peace of mind that your jaw clicking isn’t a problem, or to discuss further treatment options if it does happen to be early TMD.

Want to learn more about your jaw clicking?

Schedule your consultation today by calling (519) 455-4110.
Dr. Brock Rondeau & Associates is a London, Ontario based practice dedicated to TMJ/TMD.

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