Clicking Jaw, Jaw Pain & TMJ Dysfunction Causes and Treatment

What is a clicking jaw?

Clicking jaw, also referred to as popping jaw, is a common symptom of TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome/dysfunction which is often due to inflammation of the temporomandibular joint or uncoordinated action of the facial muscles. It may also be accompanied by locking of the jaw where the range of motion is limited and at times associated with pain.

Read more on lower jaw pain.

Clicking Jaw Pain

The mandible (lower jaw) is the movable section of the skull that articulates (movement at the joint) with the temporal bones of the skull at the tempromandibular joint (temporal – mandible). The maxilla (upper jaw) is fixed to the skull and both the upper and lower jaws work together to assist with biting, chewing and eating. Under certain conditions, the tempromandibular joint (TMJ) articulation is affected often leading to a range of symptoms like jaw pain, clicking jaw (audible), popping  jaw (sensation) and headaches. These symptoms are most often caused by inflammation of the joint although the main muscles of chewing can also cause the abovementioned joint symptoms.

Place your cursor over highlighted (red outlined) areas for a further explanation of the diagram.

Human Skull

 

The pain in the jaw is usually at the back of the jaw, near the ear or around the area of the wisdom teeth. This pain may radiate to the ear, temples of the head or neck. Refer to the image above for areas most affected by TMJ dysfunction.   Before diagnosing any jaw pain as TMJ dysfunction, it should be investigated if other possible causes could be the source of pain in this region.

Other causes of jaw pain include a dental abscess, impacted wisdom teeth, mumps, parotiditis, otitis media (infection of the middle ear), otitis externa (infection of the outer ear) or spasm of the facial or neck muscles. It is advisable to seek professional medical help if you are experiencing TMJ pain as can be associated with angina or even a heart attack.

Other Symptoms

  • Pain, tenderness and/or swelling of the jaw
  • ‘Clicking’ sound when opening and closing the mouth
  • ‘Popping’ or grinding of the TMJ when opening and closing the mouth
  • Temporofrontal headaches (headaches of the forehead or temples – refer to image above)
  • Aching pain in or around the ear
  • ‘Locked jaw’ when opening or closing the mouth
  • Visible or palpable (can be felt) erosion of some teeth
  • Difficult chewing or discomfort when chewing
  • Hearing disturbances (rare)

Causes of Clicking Jaw

The clicking sound in the jaw is believed to be due to a bone suddenly releasing from a locked position or with gas bubble popping within the joint fluid (cavitation). However, the latter has not alwas been conclusively proven. The causes of a clicking jaw can be broadly divided into those that affect the anatomical structure of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) itself and those that affect the muscle responsible for movement of the jaw or other facial muscles.

Temporomandubular (Jaw) Joint

These causes affect the articulating surfaces of the joint, damages the joint cartilage or causes inflammation of the joint.

  • Bruxism (constant clenching of teeth) when sleeping (parasomnia) or awake (often due to stress and anxiety)
  • Impact or trauma to the face and/or lower jaw area
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis
  • Congenital deformity of the facial bones
  • Ankylosis
  • Infection resulting from secondary spread from a dental abscess

Muscles of the Skull :

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Lax muscles or ligaments
  • Tetanus and other infections that affect muscles
  • Paralysis of the facial muscles

Diagnosis of Clicking Jaw:

Diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms reported by the patient. Further examination by a medical professional may reveal pain on palpation (deep physical examination with the hand) of the affected area. A distinct “pop” or slip may be felt at the joint upon opening and closing the mouth. An x-ray can be useful in highlighting any joint swelling, bone degeneration or incorrectly articulating joint surfaces.

Treatment of Clicking Jaw:

  • A dental guard (also referred to as a bite or mouth guard) can often reduce the impact of constant clenching (bruxism) which will assist with your clicking jaw. A dental guard will not resolve the symptoms associated with temporomandibular joint inflammation but it will significantly improve the severity of the symptoms that one is experiencing.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs will reduce the swelling and pain associated with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) inflammation but is not a long term option.
  • Corticosteroids are effective for a more prolonged reduction of the joint swelling and can be injected into the joint. This will only be of assistance if the causative factors are addressed to prevent further inflammation.
  • Restorative orthodontic procedures can be useful if the cause of the clicking jaw is related to a disturbance with bite or other jaw deformities.
  • If your clicking jaw is caused by osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis, appropriate treatment is important to treat your arthritis.

Conservative Management :

  • Avoid excessive use of the temporomandibular joint caused by chewing gum.
  • Chewing on hard foods like nuts can aggravate the condition further.
  • Resting the jaw and applying warm compresses may also assist but the condition will recur if tha causative factors are not addressed.
  • A bite guard may be useful but has to be used constantly to assist with bruxism.
  • Stress is often known to be a major contributing factor to constant clenching of the teeth (bruxism). When stressed, it is a natural tendency to clench the teeth and periods of prolonged clenching can cause TMJ symptoms like a clicking jaw. To assist with your clicking jaw, it is advisable to address stress. Stress management or anti-anxiety drugs can prove to be useful in these instances.
  • Certain exercises may be useful in treating muscle disorders that contribute to clicking jaw but should only be implemented with the advice of a medical practitioner. Excessive exercises of the affected area may further aggravate joint inflammation and exacerbate a clicking jaw.

Clicking Jaw Complications :

If left untreated, a clicking jaw can complicate to cause erosion of the joint lining or articulating bones. While this is rare, it should be considered in long term TMJ dysfunction. Consult with your dental practitioner or a maxillofacial specialist if you notice that your symptoms are persisting or aggravating.

Please note that any information or feedback on this website is not intended to replace a consultation with a health care professional and will not constitute a medical diagnosis. By using this website and the comment service you agree to abide by the comment terms and conditions as outlined on this page

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  • Harold Avila

    I agree with you on “other causes of jaw pain include…spasm of the facial or neck muscles”. I believe over 80% of TMJ symptoms come from muscles. Looking over possible treatments I see none for muscles.

    I recommend keeping teeth apart, all the time, so muscles are not constantly working.

    • Dr. Pravith

      Thank you for the comment Dr. Avila.

      You are correct about the muscular causes being a significant factor and we do recommend resting the jaw and applying a warm compress as part of conservative management. A bite guard is useful to a certain degree for preventing excessive contraction of the muscles.

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  • natalie

    hi! i used to rest my hand on my jaw for a period of time and after that, the pain would come but it usually goes away in a week. Is resting my hand on my jaw one of the cause or is it just because I put pressure on my jaw ?

    • Dr. Pravith

      Hi Natalie

      Yes, pressure on the jaw could cause jaw pain. I assume that you mean that you rest your “head in your hand”. Depending on the angle and manner in which you do, you may also be “shifting” the jaw slightly out of its normal alignment and putting strain on associated muscles and the joint itself.

      Since you are concious about this habit, discontinue doing so and if the pain does not recur then you have possibly identified the cause.

  • Sarah

    I have an “abnormally shallow” temporal joint. The contour of the condyle is also abnormal, as it is eroded and narrow in shape. There is also an anterior dislocation of the miniscus and the meniscus is also slightly deformed. I received these results recently from an MRI, I am 26 years old and my dentist is not sure what to do, or what kind of professional I should see. He is unsure if surgery could fix any of these problems. I am interested in your thoughts. With thanks.

    • Dr. Pravith

      Hi Sarah

      Depending on the severity of the problem, you can consider further procedures which should be undertaken by an orthodontist or maxillofacial surgeon. Surgery will obviously be needed and these professionals will discuss the condition and treatment with you before you decide upon the procedure.

  • Cameron

    My jaw has been clicking when I move it from side to side for probably a year and a half now. I’ve known a number of people who have TMJ and they have told me that if I don’t have the more severe symptoms (like migraines). I also talked to my dentist about it a month ago and he told me the same thing. My concern is that about a week and a half ago the Masseter muscle and/or the actual joint on the right side of my jaw have been pretty sore. It makes it difficult to chew or even to close my jaw. I’m wondering what the best treatment would be and if I should seek assistance, who should I seek it from?

    • Dr. Pravith

      Hi Cameron

      A ‘clicking jaw’ is fairly common and often ignored if it is not causing more severe symptoms like a headache. However if it is proving to be an inconvenience to you, irrespective of the presence of other symptoms, your dentist should consider a mouth or bite guard in the absence of other clear causes for your TMJ dysfunction. If you masseter muscle is sore, then you should definitely consult with your dentist again and advise him accordingly. If you require more specialist treatment, you may seek advice from an orthodontist.

  • Cameron

    I just noticed I left something out on my last comment. I was saying that the people I have known with TMJ have told me that if I don’t have the more severe symptoms that I shouldn’t worry about it.

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  • shelby

    My jaw has always clicked, but I recently had a very scary situation. My jaws wouldn’t open. For about an hour I worked my jaw side to side in a attempt to open my mouth. I eventually was able to. However, it didn’t hurt it felt like a slight pulling on my left side of my jaw. More an annoyance really. However, since then the clicking and popping of my jaw has become louder and more annoying. In addition, yes I am prone to headaches but not migraines. Nothing that bad. I’m only 17 so I don’t have any clue what’s up. Any ideas?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Shelby

      There are a number of causes for a clicking jaw with stress being one of the most common causes. This is often seen in young person, especially those with a nervous disposition or stressed like during exams. It result from biting down or grinding on the teeth. This may often be one sided, thereby making one side of the jaw worse than the other. An incorrect “bite” or any lost tooth that has not been replaced with a dental bridge can also cause you to chew more on one side than the other. This eventually inflames the jaw joint (TMJ joint) and in cases of severe inflammation, the jaw can “lock”. Consult with your dentist or a maxillofacial specialist. The fact that you jaw “locked” for an hour is not a good sign and requires medical intervention to prevent this from occurring in the future.

  • Jasmine

    About a week and a half ago my jaw locked up on the left side whilst eating dinner (just rice, nothing hard) it wasn’t painful as such but it was certainly uncomfortable and fairly frightening. Since then my jaw has been popping and clicking whenever I open and close my mouth, even sometimes when I talk or eat, so much so that my dad has pointed the sound out to me.
    Is this something I should be concerned about?
    I often have trouble with my left ear, wax build up leading to pain around the left side, including teeth, jaw and temples, but I put that down to pressure from wax.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Jasmine

      If the popping and clicking is audible to others then it is obvious that the problem is compounding. You need to seek medical attention – consult with your dentist or orthodontist.You should be concerned if it has become that loud and is causing pain. In the interim, if you notice that you grind your teeth, then try to stop doing it. Don’t eat any hard foods and reduce the extent to which you open your mouth. The ear problem may be causing referred pain to the jaw and this may not be what you are experiencing right now since the jaw clicking and popping is so obvious.

  • nathanzamora25

    hello there. i just got interested in this cause i seemes to notice that my jaw is always sore when i open my mouth and when i yawn. the only cause i can think of is when i sleep i put pressure on my jaw cause i sleep sideways or when i get stressed out i always clinch my teeth. i also noticed that my ear at the side where my jaw hurts usually gets pressure. what do you think it is doc? thanks.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Nathanzamora25

      Yes, it could be due to sleeping in a manner that is putting pressure on your jaw. But a more likely cause is that you clench your teeth while asleep without realizing it. Get a bite guard from your dentist. If your symptoms ease then it is very likely due to clenching. If you meant that your ear is also sore upon waking then this could be due to the manner in which you sleep. But TMJ sensitivity can also cause referred pain to the ear.

  • Shane

    My jaw has been loudly popping and clicking for about five years or so, steadily becoming more pronounced and consistent. Pretty much any movement of my jaw causes it to pop, which is audible to anyone near me. There wasn’t any pain at first, but in the past year there has been a dull ache where my jaw connects to the skull, but never too intense, just a soreness. Sometimes when I eat my jaw will pop out of alignment, which is extremely painful. There is a constant feeling of my jaw becoming unhinged from my skull, like with a bit of effort it could just come loose. I’ve never seen a dentist about this because I don’t have much money, but I plan to do so very soon. Do you believe surgery could be necessary for something like this? Any recommendations?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Shane

      If your jaw is ‘popping’ to the extent that it is becoming disclocated then you need to seek medical attention. Depending on the investigation that your doctor or dentist will undertake, surgery may be a possibility. The joint may have become eroded to the extent that surgery is necessary or there may be severe inflammation that can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. Your doctor or dentist will be able to advise you accordingly based on their clinical findings.

  • danni

    Dear Dr, i have been having a lot of pain in my jaw over the past 6-9 months. Usually it starts of with my jaw aching, and then it gets worse and worse, especially the areas near my ears where the movement of the jaw is controlled. I then progress to a headache or migrane and my neck starts aching. Nothing seems to relieve the pain- only if i take panadol with codene in it, however, my jaws still slightly hurt. Does this sound like TMJ to you? As i have been to the dentist and my teeth are perfect. I am 20 years old and i got my wisdom teeth early on, as i had some of my molers pulled out when i was younger to make room for my wisdom teeth. At first i thought it was my wisdom teeth moving, but now im sure its not that. Could you please give me some insight on whether it sounds like TMJ? And if so, do i just go to my regular doctor (GP) to get this looked in to? Regards, Aching Jaw Danni.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Danni

      Yes, it does sound like TMJ but you should also notice some changes when opening and closing your mouth or when chewing. It could also be an ear infection that is causing referred pain. Having healthy teeth does not mean that you will not suffer with a TMJ dysfunction. The latter is related to other causative factors as well. You can consult with your GP so that he can exclude an ear infection if necessary. He/she may then refer you to a dentist.

  • Hi. I’m 30 and have been having problems with my TMJ joint since I was around 10 (at least that’s the earliest I remember it)when my jaw started locking. I could chew, but not open my mouth wide. Eventually this subsided, but I started having the popping. It gradually got louder, and now when I open my mouth for a regular-sized fork/spoon full of food, it can be heard by anyone near by (they usually cringe). It kind of feels like I have to “unhinge” my jaw. I can’t chew things very long without my jaw quickly swelling up and cramping, or chew with any force, and keeping my mouth open wide for a short amount of time is painful (much to my dentist’s dismay). All of this was rather annoying, but recently I had one very large and painful pop, and the popping stopped–but it was almost like it didn’t “pop” back in. I still have all the same problems chewing, just not the noise. However, now I hear a clicking in my ear, and am having sharp pains around my ear when chewing (in addition to the sore jaw). The sharp pain just started. I’d appreciate your opinion on this. Thanks.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Cislayden

      You need to have an xray done of the area to verify whether the bones of the joint have eroded. Suffering with this condition for so long may have caused some permanent damage/detrioration of the joint lining or bone which could be why it is not ‘popping’ back into place. With an xray, it will be anybody’s guess as to what is going on there. After the xray and appropriate measures, you doctor, dentist or maxillofacial specialist will have to identify what caused thsi problem for such a long period.

  • JEM

    dear doctor, i have the clicking sound in my jaws for a few years. at times i accounted lock jaw while eating. i’ve seen the doctor but he said it’s because i have a shallow jaw. he took x-rays as well. it’s been almost a year since i last saw him. i still have the clicking sound but i seem to have migranes at times without any reason. could this be because of my jaw causing it?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Jem

      Yes, it is possible that a TMJ dysfunction can lead to referred pain to the head. It could also be that the muscles causing you to clench excessively, which may have caused the TMJ dysfunction, is also the cause of your headache. You need to go back to your doctor or visit an orthodontist or maxillofacial specialist and allow them to assess your case and decide on the next step.

  • Emily

    Hi, I had two right upper back crowns placed. I then experienced an ache in the area. I thought it might just be settling in time for the crowns. But after a few weeks of waiting, my jaw began to click on the crown side before happening on the other side. It has now advanced to TMJ with tight masseter and facial muscles, grating on both sides, burning, numbness in the area of the massester muscles, aggravation on chewing and varying bite. I had my bite realigned after a visit to no less than three dentists – the last one agreed that it was a crown that was set too high – but it hasn’t helped. Could this be because of the initial inflamation caused by the problem not having dissipated? If so, how do I reduce it and how long would it take? Thanks.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Emily

      Yes if it is set too high it can definitely cause spasm of the masseter muscle. Even if you have your crowns realigned, it will not ease immediately. It could be inflammation or it could be a change in your bite as a result of you trying to compensate for the previous misaligned crown. If it does not settle in 2 weeks or so, go back to your dentist. There is no exact time for how long it will take to settle but two weeks should be a fair amount of time for any inflammation or spasm to settle provided that you are not clenching your teeth.

  • Emily

    Dr Chris, I had my bite realigned in November and it’s made no difference – it’s February. Could you tell me what position the disc is in when I have to move my lower jaw to the right to click it back into place? I have to do this continually. Thanks for your advice. Emily

  • kevin

    I am really getting annoyed by this clicking, I better see a doc soon.

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  • sheila

    Dear Dr
    My 17 year old daughter has been having severe jaw pain for four weeks now,following an ear infection.If she eats her face (lefte side) spasms for hours. Consequently she is only eating soup in the evening, trying to drink through a straw over the day. Her face has now been in constant spasm since Sunday morning (4 days) Her face is so contorted this evening and she is in agnony. The maxiofacial specialist has given her Diclofenac Sodium Tablets and suggested she uses a heat pack. These don’t help and when she is in so much pain I am at a loss as what to try next? Last Fri the consultant said he thought she may need an op to wash out the joint? He would take advice and phone us on Monday, we haven’t heard yet. I did chase yesterday but to no avail! Any suggestions please? Sheila

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Sheila

      There could be an infection of the TM joint or masseter muscle itself or this may have occurred as a result of strain of the muscle and joint. It is important to get a hold of the doctor who was handling the case and if you cannot do so, you need to consult with another doctor immediately. While there is a possibility that this is due to to strain of the joint and muscle, there is also the risk of there being an infection which may be progressing or an abscess. This is serious and requires medical attention. Speak to a doctor as soon as possible. Do not try to treat this condition without medical supervision.

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  • John

    I recently had a second molar removed on the lower left side of my mouth. During the procedure the pressure applied to remove the tooth caused me significant pain at the TMJ joint on the opposite (right)side of my mouth. Since that time my jaw has been clicking when I eat and I am feeling some numbness at my TMJ joints and at my temples. I am hoping that this is not a pemanent condition and is the result of temporary inflamation that will subside over time with proper treatment. Can conditions brought on by dental work be temporary?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi John

      Yes, it could have strained the muscles or joint – in this case it appear to be the joint. A lot depends on the skill and care of the practitioner during the procedure but at times, the force may inflame other tissues. It is difficult to say whether it is permanent or not and since you use this joint a lot during the average day, it is not getting a chance to heal. You should consult with another dentist or even see a maxillofacial specialist for more advice.

  • Meghan

    Hello. Over a week ago I had a cavity filled and I am still experiencing a lot of pain in that tooth as well as the teeth directly under it on the lower jaw. My dentist thinks that maybe the tooth he filled was worst than he thought and has suggested that maybe I need to go back and have a root canal done. I am skeptical because I have really bad tmj, especially on the side where the dental work was done. I had dental work done on the opposite side of my mouth and did not have any problems and I believe this is because my tmj rarely bothers the right side of my mouth. I think that the strain on my jaw while having the work completed may have caused a flare up of my tmj. My dentist seems concerned that this pain is largely localized at the filled tooth but couldn’t my tmj cause pain in that specific tooth because of the tenderness from the dental work? Also, whenever my tooth hurts the teeth directly beneath it on the lower jaw hurt simultaneously. Could this support my idea that it is jaw pain and not a problem with a specific tooth? Is there any merit to my tmj theory or am I just making excuses because I do not want a root canal?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Meghan

      I think you should go along with your dentist and allow him to investigate further.

      A common symptom in patients who grind/clench their teeth (bruxism) which causes or aggravate TMJ pain is that they experience tooth and gum pain. This is not the sharp or localized pain as is the case with a cavity but just a general ache of the teeth and gums. This is not the TMJ problem that is causing it but rather the constant pressure from clenching the teeth. This would explain some of your other symptoms.

      As for this localized pain, it is more likely to be associated with a cavity that could not be corrected with a filling. A root canal/extraction may be your only chance of relieving the pain but speak to yoru dentists as he is familiar with your case history.

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  • SarahK73

    Dear Dr

    I have pain and clicking in my left jaw joint which started out of the blue about 4 weeks ago. When it is severe I can not chew and resort to soup, and even have to stop talking to rest it. It can ease off for a day or two then comes back. What I find very strange is that sometimes I can close my mouth so my left teeth are aligned and rest top to bottom as they should, then other times there is quite a gap between them and they will not meet, as if my lower jaw has moved to the right.

    I’ve been to the Dr’s who gave me anti-biotics in case it was an infection, but they did not help and I am now taking Naproxen.

    I’ve been referred to a maxillofacial clinic but wondered if you can give me any advice in the meantime? It is getting more and more painful and eating is becoming more and more difficult.

    I am not aware of teeth clenching and my Dr said there is no ear infection.

    I am grateful for any comments, Thanks.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Sarah

      I am actually unsure what you are asking. You have given you case details but not asked an actual question.

      A TMJ dysfunction may exist for a number of reasons – muscular (cheek/jaw muscles), joint inflammation, dental work, abscess, etc. so it would be impossible for me to isolate a cause on this online platform. The fact that you are going to a maxillofacial specialist is a step in the right direction.

      The fact that you get these acute exacerbations that are so severe is a bit of a concern – you need to identify a possible trigger that precedes the onset of these acute states. Take note of what you are doing, eating, drinking, the length of time you talk for, anything else that precedes it and other signs and symptoms and so on so you can inform your doctor. This will assist with a diagnosis.

      The only way to know for sure is to have an x-ray and CT scan. Based on clinical findings your doctor will also conduct other investigations and blood tests. Only then can the cause be isolated. The fact that it started up so suddenly and was so intense may have led your doctor to suspect an infection and result in a prescription of antibiotics.

  • SarahK73

    I forgot to say…. when it eases off it is still very sore and aching, it never goes away, it is constant, but swings between aching but I can talk and eat better (but still carefully) and then where it is so bad I have my hand to my face and can’t move my mouth to talk or eat because of the pain. Sometimes it will suddenly hurt to the extreme it makes me whimper.

  • Elaine

    For years I’ve experienced clicking whenever I open my mouth wide. I can’t open my mouth very wide and my dentist has a hard time using standard tools and resorts to small kid-sized ones. She’s never measured but I feel I can’t open my mouth as wide as I used to. Lately, I’ve been experiencing a soreness on both sides of my lower jaw. It’s exactly where the dent is along my lower jaw. When I look at x-rays of jaws online, I never see this dent. I read somewhere that the masseter muscle can cause erosion–could this be my problem? I wear a night guard, have Sjogren’s Syndrome and Ankylosing Spondyltis. Please advise.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Elaine

      You need to consult with a maxillofacial specialist. The fact that you have so many conditions existing concurrently needs specialist assessment and treatment. Please speak to your dentist about a maxillofacial specialist in your area.

  • joyce

    hi, i’m joyce. About 4 or 5 years ago, i had all 8 of my tooth get fillers at one time. I had my mouth open for a long period of time and after that, the popping of my jaw started. i don’t usually open my mouth very wide often so in that 5 years, i had minimal pain and occasional popping. Recently, i’ve been noticing that my teeth are no longer aligned as well as my bite. My teeth used to be straight and perfect. I thouight at first it was because of a molar taken out and my upper teeth moved. Now i noticed that my bite is not right. I sometimes massage my right jaw. A doctor once gave me muscle relaxant but that didn’t help at all. Is there anything i can do at home? Like more massage?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Joyce

      Removal of teeth, extensive dental work, TMJ dysfunction and even age-related changes can alter the bite. It depends on whether the ‘new’ bit is wearing out any teeth, causing severe discomfort/pain or straining the TM joint. If not then it usually is not a problem. Do not massage extensively. This may help with muscular problems but can aggravate joint disorders or neurological conditions that may be responsible. You need to see an orthodontist about your bite to see if it is related, either causing the TMJ condition or complicated by the TMJ condition. A consultation with a maxillofacial specialist may also be necessary. Take not of any teeth grinding as well and get a a bite guard. This alone can help to some extent with the TMJ dysfunction/bite.

  • Jerseyg84

    Mine doesn’t come from opening my jaw, mine comes from me constantly moving my lower jaw and pressing my teeth together to pop it. I can’t stop doing this. I had this problem before but now I notice it more because I haven’t done it in years and now I do it again. I had a cross bite where I didn’t have my jaw aligned correctly when I closed my mouth. I got braces and was able to close my mouth correctly and all was well. After a few months of getting them off I started forgetting to wear my retainer. Now, I put it back on (yes, ouch) but with that (I’m using the clear plastic ones)I somehow feel like my jaw isn’t resting, so I keep popping it with my bottom teeth pushing on my top teeth. I notice and try to stop but I keep doing it. I’m really trying to focus on how I am biting down so this can be alleviated. I’m trying to remember the ‘excersizes’ my ortho had me do to practice closing my mouth properly but when I do and I rest my teeth together, I get the almost like cramping sensation in my TMJ on the right side like it needs to be popped. Is there anything else I can do? I’ve popped so much the past few days it’s starting to be irritating to the area and to me as I notice it. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Jerseyg84

      You don’t mention your age, but I would advise that if you are an adult, you should see an orthodontist as soon as possible. TMJ dysfunction especially in a previous case of overbite can result in the joint cartilage wearing down. In adulthood, the implications can be much more severe. Of course, you have to consciously stop biting down in the manner that you are doing but at this point it is also important to get your condition reassessed. Don’t force the joint, especially if your are experiencing any pain or discomfort, and speak to your dentist about a bite guard at night.

  • John

    Hello, I am havin a problem with my jaw for the past 2 or 3 years. I often have some smasmodic pains there. Right now my lower jay muscle is obviously greatly swolen, which has given me an unusual facial structure. the last part of my tooth above seems to be touching the lower part always. I met my dentist bt he suspected I brux. Now im confused. pls advice me

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi John

      For it to cause facial distortion means that it would have to be very severe muscle spasm and/or TMJ dysfunction. You would need to see an orthodontist and/or maxillofacial specialist. Certain neuromuscular and hormonal conditions need to be excluded as well. This is unlikely (but it is possible) to be just a matter of bruxism. I would advise that you see a doctor as well.

  • John

    Hello, I am havin a problem with my jaw for the past 2 or 3 years. I often have some smasmodic pains there. Right now my lower jay muscle is obviously greatly swolen, which has given me an unusual facial structure. the last part of my tooth above seems to be touching the lower part always. I met my dentist bt he suspected I brux. Now im confused. pls advice me. I am a 26 year old man

  • Alana

    Hello.
    I am 16 years old, and just barely today, I suddenly felt a sore pain begin in the back of my jaw, on the right side, right behind where the wisdom teeth are. Whenever I open my mouth I feel a pop or a click, I really don’t know the true difference, and then my mouth tries to slowly snap close. It’s been like this for about an hour and a half. It hurts when I move my mouth in the slightest, but it doesn’t hurt too bad. It only aches when I don’t move it. I’ve read the jaw could lock, and the thought of it scares me a bit. I have clenched my teeth today, and have rested my hand on my head.
    What I would like to know is how I can treat it and if the pain will ever go away. I never had this experience before up until now.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Alana

      There is no reason to suspect that this will be a long term condition. Given the sudden onset and severity of symptoms, it is most likely an acute condition that will pass with the proper treatment. It is difficult to say how you should treat it without knowing the exact cause. You need to see a doctor who can assess it appropriately and start with the necessary treatment. It should resolve with time.

  • Chrus

    Hi Dr,

    I am 20 years old and relatively healthy. I am not sure exactly when my jaw began to hurt. I woke up two days ago and just couldnt open my mouth wide, I can fit two fingers in width in between my teeth,but not more then that. I have been eating liquids and extremely soft food and things like rice. I initially thought it was my wisdom teeth. I have had a small headache but not sure if it was related. I have been gargling salt water twice a day and just took afew nurefons thinking it will go away. Tomorrow will be the fourth day. I dont hear any clicking, popping as others have described nor does it hurt near my ear or neck. The pain mainly occurs when I need to eat, as I cant open my mouth wide enough. It feels as though the back left of my jaw is like I dont know (locked?). I dont grind my teeth. Im not sure what it could be. I’m extremely scared, liek it doesnt effect me when I dont think about it, butw hen I eat it does hurt and is painful, will it go away? Does it sound like common wisdom tooth pain? or? I have exams at the moment and I am under stress, but I don’t think this is the cause.

    Kind Regards, Chris.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Chrus

      It is unlikely that the wisdoms could have caused such a severe problem with the jaw so suddenly unless there is an infection that has spread to the TM joint. This should not be left as it is and you need to see a doctor immediately. It is however common where TMJ dysfunction is aggravated severely during times of stress. While it is often believed that this is due to unknowingly clenching the teeth due to the stress, it is also possible that the stress hormones may have some effect on the joint lining in chronic TMJ dysfunction. See a doctor immediately.

  • manu

    hello doctor
    i am 24 years old..i have clicking sound on the left side of my jaw and few years back i got my jaw x rayed wherein there was inflamation on the right side of my jaw as when i used to wake up in morning my jaw felt uneasy to move.now i do not have any such problem, no pain but the clicking sound persists..the doctor advised taking of anti inflamatory medicine but i did not.please advise.

    • Dr. Chris

      HI Manu

      You should try the anti-inflammatory drugs and if the popping sound eases then you know that it is related to inflammation. Although original problem was on the right side, it is possible that you altered your bite in a way that is now straining the opposite side. You should see your doctor and/or dentist for more advice.

  • Sally

    Hi, just wondering if I should be concerned? The right side of my jaw started clicking 1 week ago, every time I open my mouth. There is just a very slight ache to the area near my ear but not really enough to worry about. The clicking is constant and has not let up for a week. I am a healthy active person and haven’t been involved in any physical altercations at all.
    Should I be worried and go visit the doctor/dentist?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Sally

      It is difficult to say just how serious this is. While TMJ irritation may be seen with hurting the area when trying to bite down on hard foods, stress and so on, it needs to be assessed to ensure that this is not the start of a more chronic ailment. There is no need to worry about this just yet but yes, it is necessary to have it assessed by your doctor. This could be something serious like an ear infection that has spread to the TMJ. If it is minor though, then no treatment may be necessary. With conditions like bruxism (grinding of the teeth) which you may not be aware of, a bite guard can offer significant relief.

  • ashlie

    My jaw has been popping on the left side for about 10 years. I was hit in the jaw a month or ao before it started i deal with the jaw locking up at random times and bothering me when i eat real crunchy food but its not a big deal. My question is… if my popping jaw is one the left could that be the cause of my 2 month long persistant headache that is on the back lower right side of my head. It ia extremely painful it travels to my right cheek and eye and just started about 2 months ago and the ese last two weeks have been the worst.

    • It is definitely possible. The strain of one side of the jaw joint not functioning properly could definitely cause a problem and symptoms on the other side. However, you also have to exclude other possibilities, like conditions associated with the ear or even the mastoid bone of the skull. These are uncommon compared to musculoskeletal complaints which are the primary cause of headaches. Consult with an otorhinolaryngologist (ENT specialist) or a maxillofacial specialist who may be able to assist you accordingly.

  • Nell Trent

    Hello. I am 41 years old. For almost a year now I have had pain on the left side of my neck, jaw, headaches across the top of my head and upper back pain. At first they thought this was Trigeminal Neuralgia. This has been ruled out. I have seen a neurologist (who doesn’t know what it is) – my osteopath is clueless – and I have 2 teeth that always HURT. I have a crossbite. I wore braces as a child. I have tinnitus, ear popping, my tongue feels too large for my mouth– and my upper teeth and bottom teeth TOUCH on top of each other. I have been to dentist after dentist. I have had a balance test. My teeth are driving me crazy. When I see a chiropractor I get some relief- the same w/ massage therapists (the work on my jaw joints, face and neck). Then the ear is not clogged etc… but the chiropractor is TOO ROUGH. I am seeing a new dentist and am supposed to see her again this week. I have read about neuromuscular dentists – and read symptoms for TMJD. They sound like ME– but I am in a rural town. I don’t want TMJ surgery… Where would you go from here? ANY ADVICE WOULD BE APPRECIATED. I am quite sure I am – beyond a bite guard at this point- (My new dentist said this).. but I don’t know where to turn. I don’t know why ONLY AT TIMES my tongue feels too large for my mouth- . I have had MRIs and a CAT scan– panoramic x-rays– a balance test- NOTHING. Oddly, I had 2 wisdom teeth on the top. They were SO TINY that they never removed them. When the dental asst. looked at my panoramic x-ray, she said I had no wisdom teeth?!? I forgot to ask the dentist about this. WHAT COULD have happened to them? I am not a rich person- but this is making me crazy. I don’t even know what to ask this dentist. If you could just guide me in some direction, I would appreciate it. As this has been going on now for about a year, my family doctor (osteopath) is tired of hearing this. So, where do you go from here? Also, my smile in photos has changed. The right side seems weaker- but it is the left side where most of the problems exist. Thank you FOR ANY ADVICE- I trust this new dentist- I just don’t know what to ask anymore or where to go. Nerve medications like Lyrica and Gabapentin do nothing- but make me gain MORE weight.

    • Hi Nell. Many of your symptoms sound more like its nerve and muscle related but of course this can also be a result of TMJ dysfunction as well. The fact that you mention pregabalin (we cannot mention brand names) which is widely prescribed for nerve problems and have not experienced any change in symptoms does make it less liklye to be trigeminal neuralgia but does not mean that other nerve problems may not be at play here. You also do not mention if you suffer with clenching (bruxism) which could cause some of the symptoms you mention, especially when it has affected the muscles of the face and the TMJ which could also account for the one-sided facial symptoms.

      Since you do not mention any conclusive diagnosis that has been found by any of the doctors or dentists that you have consulted with so it is difficult to say what should be done or not. This is an online platform only and we do not give medical advice but simply guide users as to who they should consult. We would also not comment on the surgery aspects because if your doctor feels that it is advisable/necessary then you should follow the advice accordingly.

      It may be time that you consult with a maxillofacial specialist. That would be the next step given the number of professionals of different disciplines that you have already consulted with.

    • Jenny Thacker

      I just read your story and it is exactly mine. Very freaky! I just was fitted for mouth guard. The jury is till out. Did you ever get a diagnoses and did you find relief???

      • Nell Trent

        No diagnosis– but going to try braces- and I am seeing a sports medicine doctor in November. Have you had any success??

        • Scarlettkate

          I have cervicogenic vertigo, which can be caused by issues with your SCM process. Google that. Dysfunction in your SCM can cause a whole bunch of issues that won’t show up on an MRI, or CAT or blood test. Physical therapy can really help.

  • Carmen Querin

    Hi Dr
    Im 12years old, I have an anxiety disorder, for about since I was 8, I recently noticed this weird popping in my jaw wen i bite down and I went to a specialist and he said it’s not tmj So he said it probably due to stress but wen ever I calm down or due my exercises I tend to clench my jaw I don’t know y and then after that it then starts popping only wen i bite down.

  • Aussie Lover

    I am 66 years old, born with a small mouth, thus small jaw bones. Since I was young, I hated going to the dentist because my jaw would always “dislocate” and I’d have to massage it a second to get it to “pop” back in. Over the years, I think I have worn my jaw muscles or the bones down to the point they bother me all the time. After a 5 hour dental procedure to veneer my front teeth( was in chair almost 6 hours!) my jaws have been constantly aching. I will have another dental bite guard made when they are through, because I do grind my teeth at night ( several have chipped over the years). If the night guard doesn’t help, what do I do? Right now my husband finds it amusing, because I cannot talk much, but it isn’t really funny. Are cortisone injections the only choice? They never worked on me before. I am worried….