Have you ever heard while eating breakfast the “snap, crackle, pop” sound.  It was not the Rice Krispies nor the corner of your tooth breaking off.  As the jaw is moving around you hear this sound or even someone else in the room.  It can come as a surprise, be ignored because it has been doing it, have pain or not, and make the jaw move awkwardly or even get stuck open or closed (see locked jaw blog).

An obvious connection to its cause is the macro trauma of a motor vehicle accident (see MVA blog).  The sudden stopping and stretching of the bones and muscles being thrashed around (see whiplash blog) can cause the normal healthy part within the jaw joint to be forced out of place, dislodged, or subluxated.  When normal movement is of opening and closing is then after done, there is a resistance to moving, followed by a thunk or click.

Another source cause is from microtrauma.  This is a smaller force being applied to the jaw joint, but repeatedly done over and over, leading to damage of the protective function of the disc within the joint.  This force comes from over used muscles and built up spasms which then cause clenching and/or grinding (see clenching, grinding blog) of the teeth.

People may notice that this noise started after braces (see good and bad braces blog) where completed.  When after clicking for 5 to 10 years they can’t open their jaw because it has locked.

How do you detect or diagnosis what is going on in the clicking jaw?  Listening, watching and feeling it happen is only subjective and gives little information to its level of the problem.  MRI’s can be done to see the parts.  It is expensive ranging from $1,000 to $2,000, but is a fraction of a second still picture of the parts.  To actually analyze what the parts are doing in the full motion of opening and closing, only a “Joint Vibration Analysis” can tell.  This measurement tool has the specificity of and MRI and can tell at what stage of deterioration the protective disc is.

Three things can come about with a clicking jaw:

  1. You can do nothing.  It may go away on rare occasions.
  2. You can do nothing, hoping it will go away.  That is not likely because of the past macro trauma or the habitually continuing micro trauma.  Eventually it will lead to chronic pain, joint destruction, or the jaw locking.
  3. You can find a dentist trained in diagnosis with objective computerized devices, selecting the correct type of appliance and knowing which physical therapy will help most effectively.

When you get rid of the clicking, popping, and snapping jaw, then 95% of your symptoms will to away.  Problems with the jaw are also happening simultaneously with problems in the spine.  Treatment may also need to include a chiropractor, massage therapist, cranial sacral therapist, physical therapist, psychologist, acupuncturist or similar health professional (see blogs about each).

Screening & Consult with a TMJ x-ray—Forms