What does it mean when your jaw always pops?

The human body is filled with parts we can’t see and given names which we may not know, but whose functions we are aware of. One of these is the “temporomandibular joint”, also known as the TMJ, which connects the jaw to the skull. Even a part as tiny as the TMJ can malfunction from time to time, triggering pain not only in the joint itself, but also in the muscles around the area which control movement (via Mayo Clinic). If you feel or hear your jaw clicking on occasion, chances are good that you’ve developed a TMJ disorder.

Doctors and scientists aren’t certain why a TMJ disorder happens. Mayo Clinic says the pain could be the result of different factors that include genetics, arthritis, or an injury to the jaw. It also says a habit of clenching and grinding teeth can also lead to a TMJ disorder, although more than a few people who have this habit don’t end up developing any problems with their TMJ. What is certain is that the clicking and grating noise you may hear, and the pain that comes with it, isn’t always permanent and usually goes away without much intervention.

Symptoms of a TMJ disorder

A clicking or grinding noise, along with some pain in the jaw, are not the only symptoms of a TMJ disorder. The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) also says you may experience problems opening and closing your mouth; you may also develop headaches and pain in your neck.

If you do develop a TMJ disorder, the CDA says you can do a few things to help yourself bounce back. These include being aware of when you are clenching your jaw; watch what you eat and avoid gum and hard food; massage and exercise your jaw muscles; use a hot or cold compress against your aching jaw; and try to keep your upper and lower teeth apart— except for when you are chewing and swallowing, that is.

A dentist may be needed if the TMJ disorder doesn’t fix itself. He could suggest you wear braces if the problem could be triggered by a bad bite (which has to do with how your teeth meet) or get a night guard to keep you from gnashing your teeth while you are sleeping. Surgery is rarely an option unless moving your jaw becomes a challenge, and even then it’s likely that dentists will do what they can to make sure that going under the knife is a last resort.

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