The average person probably doesn’t have to think about their jaw joints that much. They can speak, eat, and chew gum without being aware of the movement of the two fragile, complex temporomandibular joints that enable that motion. And they certainly don’t have to hear their jaw do the work.
But for people with TMJ, the disorder can mean being hyper aware of every movement and noise that the jaw makes during day-to-day life. Popping or clicking sounds are common in a jaw affected by TMJ. So if that sound stops, you might think that’s a good sign. Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily true.
What Causes Those Sounds?
Unlike the joints in your fingers, elbows, and knees, the joints of your jaw need to be able to move nearly every direction. You can move your jaw up and down, side to side, and backwards and forwards, all using the same joints.
Here’s what makes that extreme flexibility possible: The jaw bone has a rounded end on each side of your face. That end fits into a matching rounded socket. However, the bones don’t meet — they’re separated by a disc of cartilage that protects them from scraping against each other and helps your jaw move smoothly. Ligaments hold this disc in position so that the movement of the jaw won’t dislodge it.
In someone with TMJ, damage to the ligaments as a result of injury or bruxism can allow that disc to slip out of place. Usually, when the disc comes out of place, it’s pulled back into place as the jaw continues to move. This creates the popping or clicking noise that so many TMJ sufferers see as normal.
If the disc doesn’t move back into place, this may result in a locked jaw, which is a less common but well known symptom of TMJ.
Why Does Clicking Sometimes Stop?
Some TMJ patients experience jaw clicking regularly for some time… and then it suddenly stops. It’s easy to interpret this as a good sign, but there’s a strong probability that instead, it’s an indicator of a worsening problem.
Since the clicking is caused by the disc being pulled back into place, the sudden disappearance of the noise may be evidence that the disc has been permanently displaced, leaving the bones of your jaw and your socket to grind together without a cushion. This will ultimately lead to further damage and further pain.
The key to preventing worsening damage is seeking professional treatment. An experienced TMJ dentist can examine the current state of your joints, analyze your symptoms and history, and put together a course of treatment that reduces your pain and discomfort, and prevents further harm to these irreplaceable joints.
If you need an experienced TMJ dentist here in Columbia, SC, Dr. Adam Hahn can help. Call (803) 781-9090 or contact us online to schedule an appointment and learn more about how neuromuscular dentistry can effectively treat TMJ.