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Why Does My Jaw Pop When I Chew?

You’ve been looking forward to grabbing a sandwich at lunch, but when you open your mouth wide, your jaw cracks or pops, and the feeling isn’t all that pleasant. If your jaw regularly pops when you chew or yawn, it may be perfectly harmless, or it might be due to a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

The prevalence of TMJ disorders ranges from 5% to 12%, which means a fair number of people deal with popping jaws and more.

To get to the bottom of your jaw issues, we suggest you seek our team’s expertise here at Aura Dentistry. Dr. Negar Tehrani and Dr. Chang Yi have considerable experience helping patients with TMJ disorders. From diagnosis to treatment, we know how to promote better function in your jaw (and far less popping!).

Why your jaw pops 

The first to understand is that, sometimes, popping in your jaw is normal and has no cause for concern. If it only happens occasionally and when you open your mouth wide, there’s usually nothing to worry about. Think of it as a joint that occasionally cracks — it can be uncomfortable, but it’s not painful and doesn’t affect function afterward.

If, however, your jaw popping is fairly constant and there’s discomfort or pain associated with it, then it’s likely due to a TMJ disorder of some kind.

Your TMJs are the joints on either of your face that connect your lower jaw (mandible) to your skull. While these joints are small, they’re highly complex, which you can figure out pretty quickly if you move your lower jaw around. Your TMJs are not only hinge joints that allow you to open and close your mouth, but they also allow rotational and side-to-side movement in your lower jaw.

When you have ongoing popping in these small joints, it typically indicates that the cartilage inside the joint is sliding in and out of place. Over time, this movement can wear down the cartilage, leading to premature degeneration in your TMJs. 

Other signs of a TMJ disorder are pain and stiffness in the joints, which can affect one or both sides.

Causes of TMJ disorders

There are many different reasons people develop TMJ disorders, including:

Of this list, stress plays a relatively significant role. People with stress and anxiety tend to clench their teeth, as well as grind them, which can lead to wear and tear on the TMJs.

Stopping the popping in your jaws

If your jaw popping is due to a TMJ disorder, we determine the underlying cause and find ways to treat the problem. For example, if teeth grinding is to blame, we can outfit you with a mouthguard to prevent the grinding and tension.

If there’s a misalignment, we work toward correcting the issue so that your joints aren’t out of balance and your bite lines up better.

Lifestyle changes on your part, such as stopping gum chewing or nail biting, can also play a role. Or, if you’re feeling stressed, finding ways to decompress can reduce the muscle tension.

Rest assured, we work with you on finding the right approach for your TMJ issues, and we don’t stop until you find relief from the jaw popping and any other symptoms you’ve developed.

To get to the bottom of your jaw popping, please contact our office in McLean, Virginia, at 703-429-0770 to schedule an appointment. Or, you can request an appointment online using our form.

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