Why Does My Jaw Keep Popping? Causes and Treatment
Your jaw has been popping more than usual recently, and it’s getting annoying. You can’t talk or eat without it acting up, so you’re naturally asking yourself: “Why does my jaw keep popping?” There are several possible answers to that question, so keep reading to see what those are and how to treat your jaw problems.
Why Does My Jaw Keep Popping?
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The popping you experience while chewing, speaking, and yawning may be caused by dysfunction in your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This dysfunction may also cause pain whenever your jaw pops.
What Is TMJ?
TMJ or temporomandibular joint is a joint that connects the jaw to the skull on both the left and the right side of the face. It’s essential for eating, talking, and for anything that involves opening and closing the mouth.
These actions also depend on the connective tissue (cartilage) between the jaw and the skull because it ensures smooth movement and prevents any damage.
TMJ issues can be caused by many things. The obvious reason is any significant trauma or injury to the jaw or the cartilage — a car accident, fight, fall, etc. Apart from forceful damage to the bone, chewing gum and grinding your teeth can also cause issues with TMJ. But are there some other factors that can result in TMJ problems?
The answer is yes, and here is the list of possible medical conditions that can cause TMJ complications.
5 Medical Causes
You are probably used to hearing about arthritis in knees, elbows, and similar joints, but it can also affect the joints in your jaw. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis attack the connective tissue in the joint, which leads to cartilage deterioration.
When you don’t have functioning cartilage in your jaw joint, the bones start grinding against each other, which causes pain.
You may experience the usual symptoms of arthritis:
• Inflammation of the joint
• The range of motion is more constrained
2. Sleep Apnea
Two types of sleep apnea can cause TMJ problems — obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. In both cases, experts believe that the jaw may clamp down during a sleep apnea episode in order to prevent the airway from being obstructed. Your jaw joint and muscles around it experience excessive stress in these situations, leading to TMJ issues.
Scientists also speculate that during sleep apnea, your body goes through a lot of stress and that stress then causes your jaw to clench. If you clench your jaw too much, it can cause damage to the TMJ.
3. Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS)
Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic pain disorder that targets the muscles in your face. The pain occurs because of repeated contraction of the face muscles. Usually, people with stressful jobs or hobbies have this condition.
Symptoms of MPS include:
• Pain in the muscles that either persists or gets worse
• Painful knots appear in the muscles
• A restricted range of motion
An infection of the salivary glands and the jaw bone can be the reason why your jaw keeps popping. Accompanying symptoms, among others, include pain in the face area, swelling of the face, and dry mouth.
5. Misaligned Teeth
Believe it or not, misaligned teeth can cause problems with TMJ. When you have an overbite, underbite, or crossbite, this puts stress on the jaw joint and can result in different TMJ complications.
Is It Bad If Your Jaw Pops a Lot?
Some jaw popping is nothing out of the ordinary, so generally, you shouldn’t be concerned. Our jaw has a joint, after all, and just like our knees or fingers, it pops from time to time.
However, when you experience pain along with the popping, it can be a sign of an underlying issue. In that case, you should make an appointment with your doctor to see what’s happening with your jaw.
How To Stop Your Jaw from Popping
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Hearing the popping and going through pain every time you eat or speak can be downright maddening. More importantly, it can change the way you function. But there are some things you can do about your situation.
You can tackle the problem in two ways — non-medically and medically.
The first thing you can do to alleviate pain or at least reduce it is to change your diet. Eat softer food like yogurt, rice, cooked vegetables, etc. But also avoid chewing gum and eating tough food like raw fruit and vegetables, candy, and the like.
The softer the food you eat, the less pressure you will put on your jaw and the TMJ, which will help reduce the pain.
Another thing that doctors advise is to use ice with the swelling. The next time your jaw area gets swollen, put some ice on it. It should help reduce the swelling and calm the area down.
Finally, you can do exercises for the joint. Chin tucks, relaxed jaw exercise, and resisted closing of the mouth are only some of the exercises that can increase jaw mobility and strengthen the jaw muscles, which will help with the popping and pain.
If all your efforts at home aren’t enough, there are some medical solutions for you to consider.
Firstly, you can take medication that will help with the pain. You can try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxers, as well as corticosteroids. They are proven to work well for easing the pain.
Using a mouthguard is also a good idea. Sometimes TMJ issues can be caused by grinding your teeth during sleep, and a mouthguard will prevent you from doing this.
However, if none of the above helps, your doctor may advise you to undergo surgery. Surgeons can do one of two things to help you with the pain:
• replace the joint that is causing you problems
• do corrective surgery, which involves correcting the alignment of your teeth to relieve stress from the joint
When to See the Doctor
As we said, some jaw popping is normal, so you shouldn’t be concerned. However, if the popping is coupled with other, more serious symptoms, it might be a good idea to call your doctor for a check-up.
You should pay attention to the following group of factors:
• Pain that doesn’t seem to go away
• Difficulties with breathing, speaking, and eating
• A fever
• General worsening of your condition
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