If you are one of those people whose jaw makes clicking or popping sounds when you chew, you will understand how irritating it can be. Sometimes it is very loud and occasionally it can be somewhat painful. Short of medical intervention, there are some things you can do to ease the condition.
The joint that connects your upper and lower jaws is called the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. This joint involves bones, tendons, and muscles. People have a tendency to state that they "have TMJ" when what they mean is that they have a TMJ problem. Everyone has a TMJ or it would not be possible to open and close the jaws and chew food.
The causes of TMJ problems are varied and can include grinding the teeth during sleep, excessive chewing such as chewing gum or biting the nails, poor alignment of the teeth or dentures, and excess stress that causes a person to clench the teeth. In addition to the clicking and popping of the jaw, symptoms of these problems can include headaches, dizziness, and tinnitus.
There are several things that a person can do at home to relieve the clicking and popping sounds, as well as other symptoms. Careful choices of when and what to eat are one place to start. Eliminate chewing gum and take steps to stop biting nails. Very chewy or crunchy foods such as sticky candy or nuts should be avoided.
The application of heat or cold can aid in the relaxation of the muscles and tendons around the jaw. As with other muscle conditions, temperature changes can help release spasms and loosen the joint. An over-the-counter pain reliever can reduce inflammation and make a person more comfortable. Massage or conscious relaxation of the TMJ can also help. Generally, when the jaw is relaxed, the teeth do not meet.
Many people hold tension in the jaw. Think about how you clench your teeth when you're angry or how stress stiffens and tightens the entire neck and shoulder area. Effort can be made to keep stress at a minimum and improve the muscle tone. Exercise is an instant relaxer. A short walk can do wonders for a person's stress level and outlook. Relaxation practices such as yoga and meditation are also effective ways to deal with stress.
If these practices do not help, it may be necessary to see a dentist. A dentist can make a thorough examination of the teeth and jaw area. The dentist may find evidence of bruxism, grinding of the teeth. She may recommend a mouthguard to be worn for protection of the teeth, especially while sleeping. If you have dentures, it may be necessary to adjust the fit of the dentures. In extreme cases, if the condition is severe and no other methods provide aid, a doctor may suggest surgery to correct tendon tightness or address joint deterioration.
The presence of a TMJ problem can make itself known with clicking and popping sounds or any of the symptoms listed. You may be successful in relieving these symptoms at home, but if you continue to have a problem or the symptoms worsen, schedule an appointment with a dental professional so you can get further advice and treatment.