What does it mean when my jaw clicks? Skip to main content

What does it mean when my jaw clicks?

Most of us have experienced the sensation of a popping or clicking in our jaw. Although the experience can be unsettling, it’s not always a cause for concern.

In this post, we’ll discuss when it’s necessary to seek medical advice about a clicking jaw and cover the basic treatment options.

No pain, no problem

Certain pops or clicks of the jaw can happen to anyone, often from overextension from a big yawn or gulp. In these situations, the pop is typically pain free. The sound is simply the jaw sliding back into place after the mouth opens too wide. If there’s no pain, it’s unlikely there’s have much to worry about.

Could it be TMD?

When the popping becomes persistent and happens in conjunction with a sharp pain, it could be that the joints of the jawbones aren’t functioning properly. This is known as temporomandibular disorder or TMD for short.

Specific symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Increase in the frequency of popping
  • Pain when the jaw pops
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Tenderness and swelling in the face, particularly in the area of the jawbone joints
  • Occasional locking of the jaw
  • Inability to open the mouth fully
  • Recurring toothaches, earaches and headaches in the region of the jawbone joints

Over time this can affect speech, facial expressions and even eating habits. If you think that you might be affected by TMD, speak with a specialist.

Two approaches to treatment

In the past, TMD was almost exclusively believed to be caused by a bite problem and treatment involved surgery or orthodontic braces. While surgery may still be required to fix the jaw, the modern approach is to try non-surgical methods first. Muscle, tendon and ligament damage or inflammation can often be treated without the need for surgery. Non-surgical options include physical therapy, a change in diet, medication, hot and cold compresses or bite guards.

Talk it out

Where do you begin if you are concerned about a clicking jaw? Talk to your dentist first. Your dentist can determine if you need to be referred to an oral surgeon for a further opinion.

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