Strange Jaw Problem
January 12, 2007 11:30 PM   Subscribe

There's something wrong with my jaw: whenever I move it to the left or clench my teeth, I feel something bone-like moving in my ear.

For the past week or so, my jaw has been behaving strangely. At first, it just ached every now and then, though enough to cause me trouble while eating. I ignored it, thinking that the pain would pass on its own.

A few days ago, the symptoms changed: not only does my jaw ache more often now, but sometimes (and especially when I move it sharply to the left or clench my teeth) I feel something bone-like moving in my ear. The sensation is extremely uncomfortable and doesn't seem to be going away.

What could be causing this?
Is there any chance that something vital - blood vessels, nerves, my brain - is being compressed?
posted by archagon to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
By the way, my hearing hasn't changed.
posted by archagon at 11:38 PM on January 12, 2007

Sounds like TMJ
But really for stuff like this, you should see a doctor for a professional opinion.
posted by Osmanthus at 11:43 PM on January 12, 2007

You may be having TMJ problems. IANAD or a dentist, but I have friends with chronic TMJ issues, and it is not fun. See a professional if pain persists.
posted by paulsc at 11:44 PM on January 12, 2007

I'm not a doctor, but I would guess that you have TMJ. I had chronic jawaches a few years back and when I went in to have it checked out the dentist diagnosed me with TMJ, which basically means that the joint in your jaw is aggravated by excess movement, in my case it was a problem of too much chewing gum and too much time spent playing clarinet. The solution was to stop carrying gum and too minimize my jaw movements. Eventually I stopped having the aches in my jaw, but they do come back sometimes if chew some gum or exhibit too much vigor in my eating behavior.

My case was fairly minor and I haven't been bothered by it in years but if your pain has persisted for a week or longer I would definitely get a checkup from your dentist. But definitely try and minimize your moving your jaw around until you go and get a professional opinion. And if hurts when you clench your teeth or jut your jaw to the left, as the proverbial doctor says, "if it hurts don't do it!".

One last word of advice: if you're like me and tend to unconsciously clench your jaw make a concerted effort to relax those muscles. That will relieve a lot of the stress that exacerbates TMJ. Good luck.
posted by meditative_zebra at 11:56 PM on January 12, 2007

Is it a popping/clicking sensation? If so, see here. A dentist might be your best bet.
posted by Ritchie at 12:02 AM on January 13, 2007

Thanks for the replies!

Yes, I thought it might be TMJ, but the symptoms don't quite match up: whereas TMJ symptoms include muscle pain and earaches, I feel like there's something physically moving inside my ear.
posted by archagon at 12:03 AM on January 13, 2007

Your ears are pretty close to your hinges. Press your finger into the side of your head just in front of your earhole, and gently clench your jaw; you'll feel the muscles shown in that illustration tensing.
posted by flabdablet at 12:53 AM on January 13, 2007

Anecdotally: I get that annoyingly scary popping sound in my jaw/ear frequently that feels like my entire jaw is becoming unhinged, but it's usually pretty painless in my case. According to my doctor and dentist, it's because I clench my teeth as I sleep. I got a custom mouth guard made, and it usually helps (when I remember to actually sleep with it!). I've also tried acupuncture (not too helpful) and having my neck adjusted by a chiropractor (helpful, but only if I went at least once a week).
posted by logic vs love at 1:26 AM on January 13, 2007

I'm not a doctor, but I did feel pretty close to the pain you described in my ear a while back whenever I moved my jaw, especially when I'm chewing on food. I took the recommended dosage of ibuprofen (available over the counter) a couple times and the pain went away. It could have been a muscle swelling, but the medicine worked. Talk to your doctor before trying this though.
posted by rpmurph at 1:49 AM on January 13, 2007

I started cracking my jaw (like cracking knuckles) when I was a kid. It's no more harmful than cracking knuckles. But it does sound rather odd when it happens.

The top of the mandible presses against the ear canal when your jaw is closed. That's normal; you may just have never noticed it before.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:52 AM on January 13, 2007

go to a doctor.

little things that MIGHT help in the mean time (and won't hurt, if nothing else) from personal experience.

are you doing anything different that might affect your jaw? new pillow, new significant other? seriously, I developed the exact same symptoms when I had this girlfriend who would pin me up against the wall at night. I bought one of those ridiculous mouthpieces from rite-aid, which did nothing. it turns out that the solution was to dump her.

any new stress? my best friend also had similar symptoms and it went away as soon as he got out of his daily hour and a half traffic grind as his doctor suggested.

again, the green isn't the best place for medical advice, but i don't think that looking at how you sleep or reducing stress can hurt.
posted by bryak at 4:01 AM on January 13, 2007

Nthing the TMJ suggestion. The muscle pain and earaches you aren't having means you are lucky enough to scrape by without those symptoms. (I don't have those symptoms either...phew!) When my dentist first told me I had it, he did an interesting quick fix before he fitted me for a mouth guard -- he stood behind me, pressed his fingers into my jaw joint (right in front of my ears), and moved my jaw around a bit. The adjustment was pretty minor, and by no means did it save me from needing a mouth guard, but I noticed a difference right away. See if your dentist knows how to do that on-the-fly realignment.
posted by phatkitten at 5:39 AM on January 13, 2007

Thankyou AskMe—I’ve always wondered what that clicking was that I’ve been hearing for ages now. Had no idea other people had it too. Was a bit afraid that it was some kind of problem with the ears.
posted by hadjiboy at 7:28 AM on January 13, 2007

I'm being treated for TMJ right now. My dentist made me a mouth guard and it took care of the awful face pain I was experiencing. My jaw still pops but I'm hoping that will improve over time. He said in some cases he sends patients to a physical therapist in addtion to the guard in order to change how their jaw moves. I'm hoping this isn't the case for me.
posted by tommasz at 8:50 AM on January 13, 2007

I had something like this for a while when I was grinding my teeth at night. I bought one of those drugstore kits for making a nighttime mouthguard, the kind you sleep in, and wore it for a few weeks. Everything cleared up just fine.

It gets worse if you don't do anything about it, partly because it becomes something you notice all the time, and the anxiety about it makes you test it constantly.

If you can, see a doctor. One of those mouth guard kits is like $20 though, in the meantime.
posted by hermitosis at 9:43 AM on January 13, 2007

I started popping my jaw as a kid, too, but never had any pain either like Steven. Now I can make that teardrop sound without having to use a finger to tap =P
posted by Quarter Pincher at 10:17 AM on January 13, 2007

I have a similar problem and when it gets bad I apply heat to the hinge area of my jaw, for about 10 minutes. That and Tylenol seem to help.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 10:18 AM on January 13, 2007

As a TMJ sufferer, I know that some people have more pain and some have more noise. You may just be in the second category.

A warning about bruxism (grinding) and night guards: my stepmother can't live without hers, but I can't live with mine; it makes me clench my teeth twice as hard. Just saying, if that doesn't work for you, don't give up. What works for me is the treatment of my anxiety disorder (which cleared up a shocking number of physical symptoms) and taking up yoga (generally increased awareness of my body's unconscious actions + relaxation = less unconscious teeth clenching).

Good luck!
posted by sarahkeebs at 7:12 AM on January 14, 2007

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