Clicking, Popping, or Crepitus are Symptoms of Joint Dysfunction…

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD), often referred to as TMJ, are disease processes that can result in headaches, jaw pain, and noises within the joint. Many don’t realize that TMJ is just the abbreviation for temporomandibular joint rather than TMD, which is the disease process.

TMD can be the result of overt trauma, jaw fracture, developmental disturbances to the jaw joint during growth, increased stress levels, a bad bite (malocclusion) and arthritis. The most common symptoms of TMD are jaw pain, headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), neck pain, clicking, popping, grating or grinding sounds (crepitus) within the jaw joint, dizziness, vertigo, a decreased range of jaw opening, and pain around the eyes.

The TMJ is a complex joint that consists of a fibrous articular disc inter-positioned between the lower jaw bone and the skull. This joint is required to act as a hinge and rotate during simple opening as when talking. The joint must also translate or slide down the skull fossa when opening wide while eating or yawning. When eating, your jaw exerts tens to hundreds of pounds of intermittent, microsecond forces. Abnormal jaw activities such as clenching and grinding (bruxism) generate these same forces but they are constant, causing physiologically excessive pressures on the jaw joints and teeth. These constant excessive forces fatigue the muscles of the face resulting in pain within the joints, face, and head. Many individuals that suffer from TMD often awake with headaches and jaw pain or develop theses symptoms during the day. These symptoms are often the result of stress-induced, chronic clenching, and grinding.

Noises within the TMJ such as clicking, popping, or crepitus are additional symptoms of joint dysfunction. Joint sounds such as these are an indication of joint inflammation and displacement of the fibrous articular disc. For example, many individuals may notice a click or pop with jaw opening or closing. This is due to the disc being displaced during jaw movements.

Discomfort or pain may or may not be associated with these noises. Note that the disc can be displaced resulting in an open or closed lock of the jaw. Joint noises alone, without pain, are not necessarily indicative of a diagnosis of TMD.

Treatment for TMD varies depending upon the severity of the dysfunction. Mild cases are often treated with over the counter pain medications, prescription muscle relaxants, rest, and soft diet. More moderate to severe cases can be treated conservatively with an appropriate occlusal splint and physical therapy.

There is no defined specialty in the healthcare system for temporomandibular disorders. Generally, individuals suffering from this disease process may see a range of different practitioners including general dentists, orthodontists, and physicians. Most importantly, make sure you see a clinician who has experience in treating TMD.

Dr. Edgren is a Board Certified Orthodontist certified by the American Board of Orthodontics (ABO) in Greeley, CO.