Your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is a hinge-like joint that connects your upper and lower jaws. You have two of them, one on either side of your mouth. When these joints work like they are supposed to, you barely notice them. When they do not, you may experience all sorts of problems, ranging from mildly annoying to debilitating.
One symptom of a TMJ disorder is a popping sensation in the joints. You may feel your jaw pop as you open and close your mouth. You may feel it pop as you move your jaws from side to side, usually as you chew. So, how can you tell if the popping in your jaw is serious? Let us start with a primer of how the TMJ works.
How the TMJ works and why it pops sometimes
The temporomandibular joint works like a hinge that moves in multiple directions. It is surrounded by muscles whose job is to move the mouth. The joint allows the jaws to move in three main ways:
- Forward and backward
- Upward and downward
The mouth combines the three movements while talking, chewing and yawning. The bones that make up the joint have a spongy, cartilaginous disk between them. This padding protects the jaws from coming into contact and grinding away at each other. It also allows the jaw to have a wider range of motion compared to other hinged joints.
But like a door hinge that needs some lubricating oil, the TMJ can crackle and pop, especially if the padding inside the joint wears thin or if the joint becomes misaligned. Here is how to know if the popping is a source of concern:
1. If one has recently experienced trauma to the mouth
A person that has taken a blow to the mouth may have an injury that may cause the jaw to pop. If the blow did not feel serious at the time of the incident, an injured person would likely brush it off. However, after a few days, they may notice a popping sensation as they move their jaw. An injury might cause the TMJ to become slightly misaligned.
If a person feels pain along with the popping, they likely have a TMJ disorder. The popping may be accompanied by a grinding or crackling sensation, which would be the source of the pain. Along with the pain, the person will experience a limited range of motion in their mouth. Pain is a good indicator that it is time to see a dentist.
3. A jaw that keeps locking
Difficulty in moving the jaw is a telltale sign of TMJ disorder. A person that has trouble opening or closing their mouth should seek help immediately. With the help of a dental specialist, the patient will get a definitive diagnosis and start treatment for the disorder.
Do not ignore discomfort in your jaw
If the popping in your jaw comes with pain and limited motion, visit us at our Aurora office for an exam. We will get to the bottom of the problem and start you on a course of treatment.
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