Jaw Popping May Be a Sign of a TMJ Disorder

TMJ Trophy Club, TX

If you have any issues with your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, a popping or snapping sound when chewing or moving your jaw is a common symptom. While some people experience jaw popping for a very short time without any accompanying pain or discomfort, others may have a temporomandibular joint disorder. Continue reading to learn more about TMD, including what causes this disorder and how patients can find relief.

Diagnosing TMD


Most often, TMD is caused by certain behaviors that cause general wear and tear on the jaw or tightens the joint and facial muscles. Chronic teeth grinding or clenching, fingernails biting, cheek biting and excessive gum chewing can all contribute to a person’s jaw popping. There are several other issues that can lead to problems with the TMJ:

  • Arthritis
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Broken or injured jaw
  • Teeth malocclusion and misalignment
  • Tumor or oral cancer
  • Salivary gland infection
  • Sleep apnea


Jaw clicking or popping is not the only sign of TMD. The main reason patients first bring up their concerns with a dentist is to discuss reoccurring pain in the face and jaw area. In some situations, the pain may be so severe the patient struggles to chew food properly or sleep at night. The jaw often feels very tight and gets locked in place when opened or closed. The patient may also notice inflammation and swelling. Other common complaints include frequent earaches, tension headaches and neck aches. If a patient has TMJ problems due to teeth grinding at night, these symptoms may feel worse after first waking up.


TMD is often diagnosed by a dentist. During an exam, the dentist will look for signs of wear on the teeth and feel the jaw for any tightness or inflammation. The dentist may also ask the patient to open and close the jaw to examine its movement and listen for any popping noises. Apart from looking out for these common symptoms, the dentist may also take a panoramic X-ray of the teeth or order an MRI or CT scan to ensure no other more serious jaw issues are to blame.

Treating TMD

Once the dentist makes a TMD diagnosis, there are several treatments that may be used to bring the patient relief, such as a bite guard or splint. Orthodontic treatment is often necessary if bite or alignment issues are contributing to the discomfort. The dentist will recommend certain home remedies, such as applying ice or heat to the area, eating a softer diet, taking anti-inflammatory drugs or exercising the TMJ. In rare cases, medical treatment or surgery may be recommended to either repair the joint or remove excess fluid from the area.


While jaw popping is not always a sign that a person has TMD, it is a very common symptom linked to the condition. Fortunately, the outlook for jaw popping and TMJ disorders are very positive, and most people only experience symptoms temporarily. A dentist can help patients identify potential causes for the issue and recommend remedies and behavioral changes.

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