Clicking Jaw...
May 13, 2005 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Anybody ever have this happen: Every once in a while (but more often lately) when I'm eating, my jaw will "crack"right near my right ear and then hurts like a mother*@!$&. What causes this? I've never had my wisdom teeth removed...I'm wondering if that's related or not.....anyone?
posted by stevyb to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go see a dentist but it's probably Temporomandibular joint disorder.
posted by togdon at 9:25 AM on May 13, 2005

Here is an advice-free anecdote:

Yes, this has happened to me! It used to happen to me often when I was a teenager. Normal, pain free jaw-function most of the time, but then every few months or so, a pressure when I would open my jaw really wide, like the pressure you feel when you slowly crack one of your knuckles. Then my jaw would "crack", and the pressure would be gone. If I closed my mouth again, I could crack it again. Sometimes it would last only one or two cracks, sometimes it would last longer than that (I want to say a day or so?) It would hurt afterwards, but more like an achey-soreness than I was actually breaking anything. I don't think I've had this happen in 10 years. (I just tried to "crack my jaw", and I can still hear the liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittlest tiny noise when I try and do it.)
posted by 23skidoo at 9:36 AM on May 13, 2005

I can almost guarantee that this is TMJ (togdon's suggestion). My wife's had it off and on as long as she can remember, and you're describing her exact symptoms. Sure, you can go to see a doctor or a dentist, but IIRC, it's extremely difficult to correct. Surgery is as likely to make it worse as it is to make it better. My wife takes Celebrex when it's especially bad, but most of the time she just learns to deal with the cracking and the pain.
posted by Plutor at 9:44 AM on May 13, 2005

Regarding TMJ... my cousin has that, and she's had 3-4 surgeries for it. She lives in constant, high-grade pain.

On the other hand, my jaw does something similar to what 23skidoo describes, periodically, and has done it for decades, and I've never had any other ill effects.

Probably best to get thee to a dentist.
posted by gurple at 10:05 AM on May 13, 2005

Sometimes a chiropractor can adjust your neck or skull and relieve TMJ.
posted by stacyhall1 at 10:07 AM on May 13, 2005

An ENT professional can also take a look at that (and have it covered by your insurance). They may send you to a dentist after, but it is then labelled as a medical visit instead of dental. Some people can get it corrected with braces instead of surgery. Good luck.
posted by blackkar at 10:08 AM on May 13, 2005

Might be TMJ, might not be TMJ. Actually it is quite common for your jaw to click as I found out recently after years of gum chewing enjoyment combined with bruxism. You might be putting the muscles and tendons in your jaw under strain by grinding/clenching your teeth, opening your mouth too far (shouldn't open your mouth more than the width of about two fingers) or eating a tough steak or chewing gum. I wouldn't worry about it being the dreaded TMJ unless you have neck pain or headaches that go along with the clicking but would take it as a sign something your doing isn't right. Definitely see a dentist just in case there is something going on your not aware of like bruxism (which can also cause jaw clicking) 'cause IANAD :)
posted by squeak at 10:18 AM on May 13, 2005

Depending on your age TMJ may be transitory, IIRC, though the Wikipedia entry on it makes no such mention. I remember hearing the claim that most cases in people in their late teens-early twenties clear up with time.
posted by phearlez at 10:21 AM on May 13, 2005

Actually I've also been known to grind my teeth at night and hadn't seen the connection between my bruxism and my jaw clicking....Thank you all ....LOVE METAFI!!!
posted by stevyb at 10:32 AM on May 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I have had clicks in my left jaw joint for years. This is sometimes accompanied with pain, but usually not. It has lessened a lot in the last few years, if that's any consolation. I haven't thought about it ages, AAMOF.
posted by wsg at 10:44 AM on May 13, 2005

I cannot open my mouth without clickage on both sides. I mean -- I *can*, but it requires contorting my jaw in a bizarre sideways opening motion that surely has no value outside of being respectful in times of quietness and in sneaking up behind victims with my stealthy ninja moves.

I got TMJ (directly or indirectly) as a result of trauma to my jaw while playing hockey in high school. Our facemasks were hinged at the forehead, and swung up and down like a gullwing door. There were metal clips on the sides, located just above the temples, which were supposed to prevent the facemask from pushing too far inwards. I ended up clashing facemasks with another player at full-speed (center-ice, head-on), which snapped the metal clips right off, thrusting my jaw inward and down. He got a concussion; I couldn't open my mouth for 3 days. Yay, youth sports.

10-years later, it's not painful or anything -- but it is a bit annoying. I've talked to several dental/oral professionals who all seem to say the same thing: yes, it's possible to "fix," but it isn't worth it if the situation is currently bearable, and can often create more pain.
posted by Hankins at 11:00 AM on May 13, 2005

Same thing used to happen to me. Then, one day, I opened my mouth, heard a click, and couldn't close it again. Hurt like a frigger. It fixed itself in about a day, and when I went to the dentist, he said something about the ball from the jaw joint slipping back, and told me to stop chewing gum, take lots of ibuprofen to avoid swelling and get a bite plate to stop me from grinding me teeth. I did all those things for a while, and the clicking stopped. It didn't come back when I started getting lazy about the bite plate, and stopped taking ibuprofen. I still avoid gum tho.

To this day, I can't open my jaw wide in a straight line--instead, my jaw zigzags like a horse.
posted by stray at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2005

I've had a clicky jaw as long as I can remember, on every single opening or movement side to side, but in my case, no pain, which makes it a totally different thing (though slightly disturbing to people who notice it while eating dinner near me).

I asked my dentist about it once in a casual kinda way and he referred me to the hospital. They gave me a brace and some exercises, which made no difference. Eventually a locum from another part of the world told me, quite huffily, that people where he came from had serious things to worry about and didn't worry about clicky jaws. I was v. pissed off as I'd only gone because my dentist referred me. But I accepted that a clicky jaw wasn't too much to live with, gave up the brace and haven't thought about it for ages.

But as I say, there was no pain. More to the point for you, they may be able to do stuff if this bothers you so ask for help if you need to.
posted by penguin pie at 7:58 PM on May 13, 2005

I developed TMJ when I was 14. It bothered me for years, particularly when I got the horrible, horrible jaw-opening pain that sent me reeling. It so happens that a friend of mine is one of the nation's leading osteopaths (meaning he has 2 MDs and is basically a body mechanic). I'd mentioned this to him, and he told me that I must have had braces. I told him that I did, and he said that it would have started when I got them off. It did.

Apparently, braces often move teeth at the expense of the jaw's alignment. He told me that he could adjust my jaw so that I wouldn't have TMJ for a few years, and that I'd have to come back then and he'd fix it again. I thought that "osteopath" meant "crazy hippy shit," but I was wrong. (I've since learned that an osteopath is just a totally hard-core doctor.) He spent half an hour manipulating my jaw, and explained that he'd gotten it back into alignment. For the first time in years, I could open and close my mouth without noise. I no longer fear yawning. It's wonderful.

It's started to get clicky again, these few years later. I'll go back to him soon, and in another half-hour's time, he'll fix it. Find yourself a friendly neighborhood body mechanic (osteopath). S/he can tease your jaw into place, and make it good as new.
posted by waldo at 9:13 PM on May 13, 2005

Oh my my my...

Since this seems to be turning into a TMJ-issues thread, I guess I'll share. I've been dealing with TMJ for the past...god, almost 15 years now. Clicking, popping, jaw pain, neck pain, crazy zigzaggy motion to open my mouth, tinnitus--the works, basically. (Long story short: trumpet player in high school, then was rear-ended by stupid drivers four times in as many years.) As you can probably imagine, I've tried a lot of different things to help ease it.

I'd generally advise against chiropractic for TMJ. I did that for many years, and it would help, but only for a short while. (Their track record on my back pain was generally better.) waldo's recommendation to see an osteopath is good, though; I seem to remember that they accomplish the same thing, but with much less jerking and crunching.

If you've got clenching problems, I really suggest looking into an NTI. The nice thing about it, as opposed to traditional bite plates, is that it's tiny. It goes over your two front teeth, and keeps your upper and lower teeth separated, but it doesn't give your back teeth anything to bite down on. That drastically reduces tension in the muscles that control your TM joint. Unfortunately it's rather expensive (I paid $300 for mine)--but it works.

Massage and acupuncture are very relaxing (a good thing, for the same reasons as above), and have been helpful supplementary therapies while working with my current physical therapist. She's had all the traditional medical/Western training, but also incorporates craniosacral therapy into her treatment. It's been an amazing help, so you might want to look into it.

At any rate...everything about staying away from gum, taffy, giant Dagwood sandwiches, and other jaw-straining food still applies. And make sure your dentist is clued in about this next time you see him/her. They may be able to help, and if not, well, they may at least refrain from making you open your mouth too widely if you need work (another thing that has exacerbated my TMJ in the past).
posted by Vervain at 11:58 PM on May 13, 2005

For the more common jaw problems -- and possibly for TMJ, as well -- you might benefit from taking a workshop or class in Alexander technique. I used to get the same sort of dislocating click in my jaw. My experience with AT helped me to focus my attention on my jaw and figure out what I was doing, that is, that I was stretching my jaw in the wrong direction. Alexander technique simply helps you to move more easily and gracefully -- everyone I know who's taken it finds it very useful.
posted by plasticpool at 10:13 AM on May 14, 2005

Hoping this fits in, but I seem to have developed Weird Head Noises. I don't have any other signs of TMJ, dentist just says it's not my teeth, and I presume he'd have noticed if I had TMJ. This is like a tiny sharp clicking or popping noise, about once or twice a second, I only notice it at night when it's quiet. It sounds like teeth moving or resettling, but they'd have fallen out the first week if they were moving that much. Directionally, it feels like it's coming from the front of my face, but with bone conduction, you probably can't really tell.
As long as the TMJ folks are checking in, does anyone notice this? Sorry to intrude, I just thought it might be related.
< /returns to lurking
posted by deep_cover at 10:14 AM on May 14, 2005

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