Help me avoid hypochondria
January 9, 2014 6:34 PM   Subscribe

Recently I've noticed that I often "crack" my jaw, although never with any associated pain (yet). Is this a symptom of TMJ or otherwise something I need to be concerned about? Snowflake details under the cut.

I have a tendency to crack my jaw when opening my mouth wide or feeling my back molars with my tongue (which requires shifting my jaw slightly sideways) or just sometimes feeling an unusual tightness. I've never had any associated pain with this action or with my jaw generally, but I do have low-level recurring tooth pain/sensitivity and terrible teeth in general (20+ lifetime fillings, 2 root canals, and I'm only in my early 20s--never any braces though).

Should I be worried about this, or can it wait a few years until I am able to switch dentists / it goes away on its own? YANMD, but I'm currently stuck with a conservative dentist I don't trust--based on previous experiences, he's a good dentist but not ideal for my problematic teeth-- so I'd like to hear from the hivemind.
posted by serelliya to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Also, the cracking always happens on my left side, where I had a failed filling followed by root canal on the back molar last year. That tooth itself seems to be fine though.
posted by serelliya at 6:38 PM on January 9, 2014

I've had that for ten years with no pain or problems. A dentist once told me it can happen when the way your teeth line up forces your jaw to the side a little. I think it's harmless if annoying.
posted by Comet Bug at 6:48 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a former TMJ sufferer, I think TMJ falls under the heading of "when it happens, you'll really know it."

Like, making an urgent care appointment because I thought I'd dislocated my jaw you'll-really-know-it.

The long term treatment that worked really well, btw, was a number of massage and resting-jaw techniques to work the tendons through the neck.
posted by colin_l at 7:58 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anecdata: I've had those symptoms longer than you've been alive. I reckon I'll survive. Worst thing to happen to my jaw was a dentist dislocating it.
posted by pompomtom at 8:05 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

What your describing is abnormal ? I thought everybody's jaw cracks like that. Mine always has.

And, like you, I have terrible teeth - many root canals and fillings. My last dentist, whom I had for a decade, was a very conservative one, and I came to really appreciate it. Honestly, I've had fewer problems in the past decade (I'm 42) than I had from 22-32 because he was just less willing to mess with small problems unless they became big problems. Sometimes, less is more. Find a different dentist if you feel you need to - but I don't see that as a red flag in and of itself.

Anyway, no, I wouldn't worry about cracking your jaw.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:47 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hmm. I think some people have abnormally loud jaws. One time my mom told me I had the clackingest jaw she has ever heard. I was eating bubble gum at the time, but my jaw makes painless cracking sounds all the time. I used to think it was something that only I could hear like how your own voice sounds different inside of your head. But yeah, it's objectively loud and nothing seems to be wrong with it. I would not worry.
posted by mermily at 7:40 AM on January 10, 2014

I routinely have people open their mouths widely as part of the airway exam I do before anesthetizing them; I often palpate their TMJ as the do this in order to get a fee for how it is working. Most people have some sort of clicking or popping when the open their mouth all the way due to the lower part of the joint sliding forward slightly when the mouth opens all the way. My own jaw does this and after 50 years has caused me absolutely zero problems, although a few dentists have commented on it. It just so happens that I am working with some oral surgeons today so I asked them about it and after a much more detailed anatomical explanation they agreed with my experience that most people have some sort of perceptible sensation when they open their mouths fully. Very few go on to have any problems. I don't worry about my own jaw doing this and neither should most people.
posted by TedW at 8:51 AM on January 10, 2014

My jaw cracked like that for 6 years without any pain and then about 3 years with increasing amounts of pain, and then my jaw got stuck about a centimeter open and it was excruciating and just awful. Apparently the cartilage had finally dislodged itself and wedged at a bad angle.

Treatment was getting my molars all resurfaced to fit my new bite, now that everything at my tmjoint was all enfucked, and getting a bite guard to sleep with at night so it didn't happen anymore. (I tend to clench my teeth when I sleep, which didn't start the problems happening but certainly exacerbated them.)

So proceed with caution. Maybe get a guard to sleep with at night. If you start to have pain associated with the jaw clicks, DEFINITELY get it checked out. Don't be me. Don't get your jaw stuck a centimeter open on Thanksgiving. DON'T DO IT. DON'T.

But right now it sounds like you're fine, though.
posted by phunniemee at 8:59 AM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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