Why does my jaw pop when I chew?

A popping sensation or sound in your jaw or near your ear when you chew, talk, or yawn may be coming from your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). A jaw pop sound or sensation can also be associated with pain in the upper jaw or ear and the pain can range from minor to severe. 

Many Central PA patients experience this type of pain, commonly referred to as TMJ pain and when it goes undiagnosed by a dentist, can cause severe pain and discomfort. While pain and jaw popping should be looked at by a doctor, jaw popping alone might not always be a cause for concern, but it is wise to mention it to your dentist during your next routine exam so they can check it out for you.

Even though the cause of jaw popping and pain radiates from the TMJ, the exact cause can be linked to a number of underlying conditions including:

  • Trauma to the jaw, neck, or face
  • Dislocation, displacement, or dislocation 
  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • Tightness in facial muscles
  • Missing or misaligned teeth

Arthritis associated with jaw pain and popping

Sometimes jaw popping and pain in the TMJ joint can be caused by other medical conditions rather than injury or use as listed above. Various medical conditions can cause damage to bone and joint structure of the TMJ which can cause pain and popping sensations. Arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause damage to the bone and joint structure in your jaw and face.

Myofascial pain syndrome and TMJ

Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic pain disorder that occurs when a muscle is contracted over and over again, causing pain in the trigger points of your jaw and facial region. When you have these trigger points you may experience pain and popping in the jaw and other symptoms including:

  • Pain that worsens with straining or stretching your jaw
  • A reduced range of motion
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Pain that doesn’t get better within a week

Sleep apnea (Obstructive Sleep Apnea)

Obstructive sleep apnea, infections, malocclusion of the teeth, and various other conditions can cause jaw popping and require treatment by a dentist that can appropriately diagnose and treat the problem.

What is the treatment for jaw popping?

When you visit your dentist, they may begin treating your condition with at-home remedies including:

  • Applications of ice packs or moist heat wraps
  • Taking NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or other over-the-counter medications
  • Eating soft foods for a period of time until the condition heals
  • Muscle exercises that are specific for TMJ pain treatment

If the condition is more advanced or the at-home treatments aren’t working, your dentist may suggest medical treatments such as:

  • Therapies
  • Corrective dental treatment
  • Surgery to correct the TMJ or occlusion issues

The good news is through proper diagnosis and treatment from a dentist familiar and experienced in jaw popping and TMJ is most often a temporary discomfort and can usually be relieved with minor treatments and lifestyle changes.

Before trying to take any at-home treatments on your own, it’s important to talk to your dentist for a proper evaluation and treatment plan. 

If you’re experiencing jaw popping and TMJ discomfort, contact our office today and we’ll help you get in for an evaluation of the condition and begin to help you with at-home and in-office treatments to relieve your discomfort!

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