Jaw Clicking Explained
What is Jaw Clicking (Also Known as TMJ disorder)
This is a common disorder of the nerves and muscles that is caused by inflammation or injury of the temporomandibular joint (this joint connects the skull and the jawbone). It is the joint that allows you to move your jaw side to side, up and down so that you can yawn, chew or talk. The inflamed or injured temporomandibular joint causes pain accompanied by clicking, popping or crackling of the jaw. It may also lead to swelling on the cheek, headaches, bruxism (clenching/grinding of teeth), nerve inflammation and a dislocation of the said joint.
TMJ usually causes severe discomfort and pain and can be either temporary or long-lasting. It can also affect both sides of the face or just one side. Statistically, more women have it than men, and it’s common in people aged between 20 and 40 years.
Some of its symptoms include;
- Tenderness or acute pain in the jaw joint, shoulders, neck, and face. Some people may experience pain around or in the ear when they speak, open their mouths wide or chew
- Jaw gets locked in either the closed or open position
- Popping, grating or clicking sounds in the joint when chewing. These sounds may or may not be accompanied by pain
- Feelings of tiredness in the face
- Trouble chewing or experiencing sudden difficulty when biting. Patients feel as though the lower and upper teeth do not line up properly
- Swelling on the face
In addition to the above, you might experience dizziness, earaches, headaches, toothaches, neck ache, a ringing in the ears or upper shoulder pains.
If you have any pressing dental issues or questions, you can book an appointment online or contact us directly on (+356) 2125 7253 (Skyparks Business Centre, Malta International Airport), or (+356) 2155 7323 (Dingli Street, Victoria, Gozo). For international patients, it is recommended to request a free e-consultation where we can discuss your individual case and treatment options.
What Causes TMJ Syndrome?
The cause of TMJ syndrome is not fully understood. However, several factors play a role in the development of muscle dysfunction and tightness as characterised by this condition. However, experts are not sure whether these causes directly lead to TMJ syndrome or if they appear as a result of it.
Some of these causes include;
- Poor posture
- Anxiety or stress
- Teeth grinding
- Teeth or jaw trauma
- Excessive chewing of gum
- Orthodontic braces
Several risk factors predispose the cause of TMJ, including;
- Stress, which causes jaw clenching and muscle tension
- Chronic arthritis
- Jaw trauma
- Genetic disposition to increased stress or sensitivity to pain
- Poor posture in the upper back muscles and neck
How the TMJ Works
To open or close your mouth, two joints and a couple of jaw muscles need to work together. They work seamlessly when you are speaking, swallowing or chewing.
The temporomandibular joint is on the lower jaw and is one of the most complex joints in the human body. It works together with the muscles to complete several movements which include a combination of gliding and rotating action that you use when speaking and chewing.
Several muscles help to control the mandible in its backward, forward and sideways movements. Each TMJ features a disc between its ball and socket which acts as cushioning when the jaw is in movement. Any issue that prevents this system of bones, discs, ligaments, and muscles to work correctly causes TMJ disorder.
When to Seek Medical Attention
You should see a dentist if you experience persistent tenderness and pain in the jaw or encounter trouble opening or closing your jaw. Your dentist will discuss the possible causes and treatment options that best suits your condition.
Home Treatments for TMD
There are some treatment methods that you can perform in the comfort of your home to provide relief to your TMJ symptoms. Depending on the severity, the dentist may recommend a combination of any of the below remedies:
These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or naproxen. These will help relieve the swelling and muscle pain.
Place ice packs on your temple or face for 10 minutes. Perform some jaw stretches (but only if your dentist has said they are okay). Then, place a warm towel over the affected side for 5 minutes. Repeat this routine several times in a day.
Avoid Hard Foods
Eat soft foods like mashed potatoes, yoghurt, soup, cottage cheese, fish, beans, cooked vegetables, fruits, and scrambled eggs. Cut any food you choose into tiny pieces to reduce chewing. Stay away from crunchy foods like raw carrots and baguettes.
Avoid Extreme Jaw Movements
Reduce yawning to a minimum. Also, don’t sing, yell or do anything that will force you to open your mouth wide.
Avoid Chewing Gum
Stay away from chewing gum. The idea is to reduce jaw movement.
Do Not Rest Chin on Your Hand
Avoid holding your phone between the ear and your shoulder. This will cause facial and neck pain.
Keep your Teeth Slightly Apart
Do this as often as possible. Keeping your teeth parted will help relieve pressure on the jaw. To avoid clenching your teeth, place the tongue between the teeth.
Learn Stress Reduction Therapies
These techniques will help to loosen the jaw. Inquire from a dentist if you need a massage or physical therapy
Traditional Dental Treatments
You can consult your dentist regarding some of these effective TMJ treatment methods:
If the pain and swelling are severe, your dentist may prescribe a high dose of NSAIDs. They may also suggest the use of a muscle relaxer or anti-anxiety medicine to help with the stress that may be the cause of TMJ.
A Splint or Night Guard
Night guards and splints fit over the lower and/or upper teeth and prevent teeth from touching. They help to reduce teeth grinding or clenching, thus helping the muscles to relax, as well as to realign your teeth.
If the above treatments don’t work, the dentist may suggest the below:
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
In this therapy, the dentist will use a low electric current to relieve pain. The current relaxes the facial muscles and jaws.
When deep heat is directed to the TM joint, it improves mobility and alleviates soreness
Anaesthesia or pain medication can be injected into the ‘trigger points’ to provide relief
Radio waves can stimulate the TM joint and increase blood flow. This will help to ease the pain.
Low-level Laser Therapy
This therapy reduces inflammation and pain. It helps improve neck mobility and allows you to open the mouth wide.
Surgery for TMD
If all other methods fail, surgery is the last best option. But once it’s done the effects cannot be undone. For this reason, it’s essential to get a definitive opinion before undertaking the process. Below are some TMJ surgery options
This surgery is conducted on patients who don’t have a history of TMJ, but the jaws are stuck. It’s usually a minor surgery. During the operation, the joint is washed out and unstuck using a special tool.
This surgery is completed using an arthroscope. An arthroscope is a tool with a lens and a light at its tip. It allows the surgeon to see the inside of the joint.
During the procedure, the joint may be realigned and the inflamed tissue removed. The surgery is minimally invasive. It usually leaves a tiny scar and has minimal complications.
If arthroscopy is not possible, then you may need an open-joint surgery.
This is necessary when;
- Tissue tumours are surrounding the TM joint
- The TM joint is scarred or is full of bone chips
- The bone in the joint is wearing down
During the surgery, the doctor will open up the area surrounding the TM joint to get a better view. The healing process following this surgery may be quite long, and there are chances of nerve injury or scarring.
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