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Why Does My Jaw Seem To Pop When It Opens?

By Larry Pribyl, DDS

My Jaw Seem To Pop When It OpensForty four million people in North America suffer from symptoms of TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder). This can be characterized by jaw pain, ear pain, headaches, ear stuffiness, popping and/or clicking when eating and/or talking, an inability to open your mouth wide or an inability to close your mouth completely.

Understanding How the Jaw Joint Works
To help you understand how the jaw joint works, gently place your little fingers in each ear canal while you open and close your mouth. You will be able to feel the motion created. Is it a smooth movement you feel or is there a popping, grating or cracking feeling? Open your mouth slightly. Move your jaw from side to side and experience a different movement. Now see how wide you can open your mouth without pain. Can you place 3 fingers (one on top of another) into your mouth without hurting? Do not force the opening. If you cannot open your mouth this wide without pain, it could be a sign of TMD.

If you hear a clicking or popping noise in your jaw, it more than likely means the cartilage disc in your jaw is slipping in and out of place. Sometimes it is a result of trauma, like whiplash from a car accident or from falling and bumping your jaw. If the traumatic incident is strong enough, it can cause a dislocation of the disc. It is very common that popping will start immediately after an accident. If you experience popping while chewing, and the popping goes away, you may notice an increase in pain and a decrease in your ability to open your mouth. If your jaw feels “stuck” or “stiff” in the morning, it may also mean that you have a displaced disc. If the disc returns to its original position, then the popping will stop. However, the popping also stops if the disc loses its ability to go back into its original home position. At this point, you will notice a sudden decrease in your ability to open. Some people cannot open enough to get a spoon in their mouth. It can affect anyone and to varying degrees.

Treatment Options
If you find yourself in this position, moist heat, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, soft diet and making a conscious effort to keep your “lips together and your teeth apart” can give you some relief. After several days, if you continue to notice a limited ability to open your mouth, I would encourage you to call our office so we can offer some assistance. Sometimes we do a manual manipulation that can help restore your range of motion. There are times too that we need to custom make an oral appliance so the disc can be repositioned back to its normal position.

We see many patients who have the cartilage displaced. Just a bit of advice: the longer you wait before you seek treatment for this, the more difficult it can be to get complete repositioning of the disc.

To learn more or to schedule an appointment for an evaluation, please call our office at 816-795-1000, or visit us online at You may also email questions to Cetta in our office at:

Larry Pribyl, DDS, has been in private practice over thirty five years. He has his Master of Excellence: American Academy of Craniofacial Pain, he is a Diplomate: American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, and a Diplomate: Academy of Clinical Sleep Disorders Disciplines. He specializes in treating head, neck, and facial pain as well as dental sleep medicine. His training comes from experts in these fields where he has acquired hundreds of continuing education hours in post graduate studies.

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