Many patients have problems with a popping jaw or clicking jaw and wonder if this is a TMJ problem and if it needs to be treated. To best answer this question, consider what a happens with a popping jaw. Most often there are two ways the jaw pops:
- The disc or “brake pad” that keeps the jaw bone from rubbing on the skull bone slips off or is forced off.
- There is hypermobility of the jaw joint and it pops when opened really wide
The diagram below shows the normal anatomy of the jaw joint and the disc in place and the one below it shows what happens when the disc is forced off due to misalignment of the teeth or trauma.
In the diagram above, when the teeth are engaged the jaw or condyle is often forced backwards and this pushes the disc off. When the patient opens the disc pops back in place and when they close it pops off. This is a damaged joint and can lead to further degeneration of the condyle and disc and other problems.
Patients can have many types of issues with a popping jaw from no pain, inability to open, difficulty chewing and also severe pain. Many times popping joints can worsen over time or even go away. Usually when it goes away there is more damage to the joint and the misalignment of the jaw that results from this can lead to other problems such as continued deterioration of the joints overtime to wear of the teeth.
Often treatment is indicated and there are several ways to realign the jaw non-surgically and to get the disc back in place. If there is no pain or no symptoms, it is often wise to check the joints to see the condition of the joints and also examine the teeth for premature wear as well as evaluate the cervical (neck) as well. When indicated, a lot of information can be found with a dentist highly trained in TMJ or a dentists with special interests in TMJ. A thorough evaluation along with a 3D scan of the head and neck or an MRI.
Another type of pop is found on extremely wide opening and does not have a corresponding pop on closing. This occurs when patients have hypermobility of the joint and the joint goes over a bump called the emminence. Most often no treatment is needed unless the joint gets stuck open. In these cases trying to avoid wide opening is indicated.
This is not an easy subject to write about as there are a lot of different issues that need to be considered and evaluated. Please note this is only intended to provide a very basic informative article regarding what makes the jaw pop.