Have you noticed that your jaw makes noises when you move it? The noises might be described as popping or clicking, but in general they’re related to a dislocated disk in one or both jaw joints. You likely experience irregular motion of the jaw as the disk slips back into place. Initially, there may be no pain when your jaw pops, but as the condition worsens, you may experience significant jaw pain and a locking jaw.
What Causes Jaw Popping
People are tempted to disregard jaw popping or clicking because it sounds like cracking your knuckles, which most people believe is harmless. In reality, though, the sounds are caused by very different phenomena, and a clicking jaw is a grave cause for concern.
Cracking your knuckles is caused by the sudden expansion of the knuckle joint, which is a simple linear joint with cartilage bathed in fluid and the entire joint encased in a capsule. When you expand the knuckle, you dramatically decrease the pressure in the joint, which causes gasses dissolved in the joint fluid to come out of solution, making the sound you hear.
In your jaw joint, the sound comes from your dislocated disk. The dislocated disk is not in the joint when your jaw is closed or only open a little bit, but when you open your jaw wide enough, the disk will slip back in, causing that popping sound. Whether or not you experience pain along with your jaw popping, you should take it seriously and seek treatment.
How Jaw Popping Leads to Locked Jaw
As your disk displacement worsens, there may come a time when the jaw won’t open at all, or it will have a very limited opening. This occurs when your cushioning disc can no longer slip back into place. By the time this happens, it may be too late to use noninvasive TMJ treatments.
Worse Sounds Are to Come
Obviously, if the cushioning disk is not in the joint, there is little or nothing cushioning the bones from rubbing against each other. Only the ligament that is supposed to hold the disc in place is there. As it gets worn down, the bones will begin to grind against each other.
This grinding sound is called crepitus, and it is the sound of irreversible damage being done to your jaw joint. It is the sound of impending invasive jaw surgery. It is a sound you never want to hear.
Early treatment of TMJ can often help the cushioning disk to stay in place, stopping the progress of the condition. The sooner treatment is initiated the more likely it is to succeed with needing to resort to more invasive treatments.