My jaw pops and clicks when I eat. Does this mean I have TMJ?
Your temporomandibular joint should be silent when chewing or biting. This means your alignment is normal. But if you hear popping, clicking, or cracking sounds when you chew or otherwise open your mouth, that is a sign of problems with the joint. A call to Dr. Frey is in order.
Symptoms of TMJ
- Jaw and tooth pain – When you have TMJ, the wear and tear on your teeth can be more rapid than if your jaw was properly aligned. The erosion on your teeth can lead to uneven tooth wear, loss of range of jaw motion, and gum recession. If you feel any pain in your jaw or teeth, it may be cause by TMJ.
- Facial Pain – It is very common for people with TMJ to endure facial pains. TMJ specifically affects your head, neck, and facial muscles, so if a nerve gets pinched, the pain can travel to your face and cause discomfort. Also, a “bad bite”, dislocates the placement of the jaw and surrounding muscles. This imbalance can cause facial pain or pain behind the eyes.
- Neck, shoulder and back pain – When you have TMJ, your unaligned bite causes a ripple effect throughout your neck, shoulder, and back. Sore, tight, and contracted jaw muscles will tilt the head and shoulders, causing overcompensation of your neck, shoulder and back muscles. This results in pain and strain throughout the upper half of your body.
- Ear pain and congestion – Ear congestion, ear aches, dizziness, or ringing in the ears can all be traced to TMJ. The over-activity of the jaw can make your ear canal sensitive. When the jaw is misaligned, the muscles and nerves in your ears can be affected causing dizziness, vertigo, ear pain, restricted hearing, sinus pain, and a congested feeling in your ears.
- Numbness in arms, hands, and fingers – When your bite is misaligned, the nerves and muscles throughout your face, jaw, neck and shoulders may spasm. This pinches the nerves that lead down to your arm, causing numbness and tingling in your arms, fingers, and hands. Nearly half of individuals that suffer with TMJ experience these symptoms. Numbness and tingling may occur with or without pain and may vary in intensity.
- Clicking, popping, or locking of the jaw – When the jaw is not in the proper position, it often causes the TMJ disk to be displaced and the join spaces to be closed. This may result in clicking or popping when opening or closing your mouth. The clicking may happen during eating, yawning, or biting. In extreme causes, the displacement of the disk may cause your jaw to lock after opening your mouth wide. The patient may not be able to close his or her mouth. This is a serious condition should be treated by a doctor.
- Teeth and jaw grinding – A mild grinding of the teeth is not a serious problem until it is done unconsciously when asleep. This condition is called Bruxism TMJ and can be very painful. It can result in a worn out surface on the teeth and sometimes fractures in the teeth.
- Headaches – Headaches are one of the most common complaints from TMJ sufferers. When the TMJ is out of alignment, this causes tension in the muscles of your face, neck and shoulders leading to tension headaches. Headaches can also be caused by blood pressure build-up due to the straining of your muscles. These headaches can be extremely painful and frequent, often misdiagnosed as migraines.
- Postural problems – TMJ may seriously affect the postural appearance of your entire body. When you have an unbalanced bite, the length of your muscles and muscle activity will also be unbalanced. When the muscles become over-contracted, it can create a forward-leaning posture. This slouching causes a ripple effect down your body. When your entire body is not lined up properly, it can result in a decrease of your physical and athletic performance. You may also feel increasingly sluggish and tired throughout your day.
How does a bad bite affect the rest of my body?
It’s easy to assume your jaw and bite are localized and don’t have much impact on the rest of your body. That can be true…when your bite is properly aligned and everything works well. But when you bite has the pressures of TMJ, it can impact far more than simply your jaw or mouth.
When your bite is properly aligned, it is easy for the components to rest and release energy. When the bite is out of alignment, the muscles are continually stressed, trying to find alignment. This causes chronic pain as described above, but it also affects other parts of your body.
- Your teeth suffer increased wear and pressure. This shortens your teeth, causes them to crack, makes your gums recede, and can start the process where your jawbone begins to resorb and collapse backward.
- Your tongue can’t sit down properly, due to the lower jaw being out of alignment. This can make the tongue rest back further in your mouth, subtly impacting airflow to your lungs.
- Your muscles and nerves will tell the rest of your body if they are being compromised. When your masseter muscles can’t ever relax, because they are constantly trying to find proper jaw alignment, they will signal their stress with pain. This, of course, will come from the corresponding nerves. But the pain will radiate from the source, the jaw area, out into the neck, back, shoulders, and can even show itself in tingling in the hands and fingers.
- Your posture can become impacted by TMJ. Chronic pain has a way of making a person tilt his or her head forward. This creates additional strain on the neck and spine trying to support your head.
- TMJ can age you. Your oral health will suffer, your teeth becoming shorter and prone to chipping, and your gums will recede. As mentioned above, your posture can change, starting with a forward lean of your head, and then impacting your shoulders and your hips.
Plus, there is no quicker way to age a person than to subject them to chronic pain. And TMJ is all about chronic pain.
But none of this has to happen. Once Dr. Frey diagnoses your TMJ, something as simple as a mouth guard, which places your jaw in proper alignment while you sleep, can alleviate your pain and change your entire outlook.