What Does It Mean If You Hear Your Jaw Pop When You Chew?

The lower jaw is connected to the skull by a hinge joint known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Like any joint in the body, the TMJ is vulnerable to injury and wear and tear over time, putting you at risk for a condition known as TMJ syndrome (also known as temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that at least 10 million Americans suffer from TMJ disorders, but the numbers are likely much higher. TMJ disorders can be painful, making it difficult to chew and eat your food and other uncomfortable symptoms. 

Our team of dental professionals at Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp offer a number of treatment options at our Orinda, California office to help you manage your TMJ symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of TMJ disorders

An occasional pop or snap in your jaw doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem with your joint. Between chewing and swallowing your food, yawning, and opening and closing your mouth to speak, the TMJ is especially active and prone to strain from time to time, especially if you also happen to grind your teeth while you sleep or clench your jaw. Like any joint, the TMJ contains cartilage and soft tissue that can become damaged and deteriorate over time, leading to symptoms, like pain, and making it more difficult for the joint to work properly.

What causes TMJ disorders?

There are a few factors that can cause or increase your risk of developing TMD, but sometimes symptoms develop without a clear underlying cause. Some of the more common risk factors include:

If you struggle with teeth grinding, our dentists may recommend night guards to help protect your teeth and jaw from pain, stiffness, and physical damage while you sleep.

The most common symptom of TMJ disorder is pain and tenderness in the jaw. You can experience symptoms on one or both sides of your mouth. You may also experience pain in your face, at your temples, or even around your neck and shoulders. 

The popping or clicking sound when you open and close your mouth or while you’re eating is another common symptom of TMJ disorder and may occur with or without pain or other symptoms. 

You may also notice swelling, and changes in your bite pattern (the upper and lower teeth don’t align properly when you close your mouth). In some cases, the jaw can get stuck in the open or closed position.

What to do if you have symptoms of TMJ disorder

TMJ disorder symptoms range in severity from person to person. If you experience swelling or pain that lasts for more than a few days or goes away and returns, schedule an appointment for a dental exam. There are several treatment options available depending on your situation. 

The most common treatments for TMJ disorder include medication and lifestyle modifications to help relieve pressure and tension on your jaw. 


For more information about the treatment plans available at Virginia H. Ellis, DDS Dental Corp., contact us today to schedule an appointment at our Orinda, California office.

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