what causes jaw popping and pain

Jaw popping, also known as jaw clicking or crepitus, can have various causes. Here are some potential factors that may contribute to jaw popping:

  1. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction: The TMJ is the joint connecting the jawbone to the skull. Dysfunction or misalignment of this joint can lead to jaw popping or clicking sounds.
  2. Disc displacement: Within the TMJ, there is a small disc that acts as a cushion between the jawbone and the skull. If this disc becomes displaced or moves out of its proper position, it can cause jaw popping.
  3. Arthritis: Degenerative joint conditions such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can affect the TMJ, leading to jaw popping.
  4. Trauma or injury: A blow to the jaw, whiplash, or any form of trauma to the joint can result in jaw popping.
  5. Teeth grinding (bruxism): Persistent teeth grinding can put excessive pressure on the TMJ, leading to jaw popping.
  6. Stress and muscle tension: High levels of stress and tension can cause muscle tightness and spasms in the jaw, potentially resulting in jaw popping.

How do I stop my jaw from popping?

If you are experiencing jaw popping and would like to minimize or prevent it, here are some strategies that may help:

  1. Avoid excessive jaw movements: Try to minimize activities that require extensive jaw movement, such as chewing gum, eating hard or chewy foods, or opening your mouth wide. This can help reduce strain on the jaw joint.
  2. Practice good posture: Maintain proper posture, both when sitting and standing. Avoid slouching, as it can place additional strain on the jaw and TMJ.
  3. Relax your jaw muscles: Throughout the day, consciously make an effort to relax your jaw muscles. Avoid clenching your teeth or holding tension in your jaw. If you notice yourself clenching, gently position your teeth slightly apart to release the tension.
  4. Apply moist heat or cold packs: Applying a warm compress or a cold pack to the side of your face near the jaw joint can help alleviate muscle tension and reduce jaw popping. Use a moist heat pack or wrap a cold pack in a thin cloth before applying it to the area.
  5. Practice jaw stretching exercises: Gentle jaw exercises and stretches recommended by a healthcare professional or physical therapist may help improve jaw mobility and reduce popping. These exercises should be performed cautiously and only under professional guidance.
  6. Avoid excessive stress: Stress and anxiety can contribute to jaw clenching and tension. Finding stress-reduction techniques that work for you, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or engaging in relaxing activities, may help alleviate jaw-related symptoms.
  7. Use a mouthguard or splint: If teeth grinding (bruxism) is a contributing factor to your jaw popping, your dentist may recommend using a mouthguard or splint to protect your teeth and alleviate pressure on the jaw joint.
  8. Seek professional guidance: If jaw popping persists or is accompanied by pain or other symptoms, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional, such as a dentist or oral and maxillofacial specialist. They can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options tailored to your specific condition.
defend your teeth against the daily grind graphic

Is jaw popping a sign of a serious problem?

Jaw popping alone is not always a sign of a serious problem. In many cases, jaw popping may be harmless and not require treatment. However, if jaw popping is accompanied by other symptoms or causes discomfort, it could indicate an underlying issue that may need attention. Here are some situations where jaw popping might be a sign of a more serious problem:

  1. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder: TMJ disorders involve dysfunction or problems with the jaw joint, which can cause jaw popping, pain, stiffness, difficulty opening or closing the mouth, or a clicking sensation.
  2. Jaw joint inflammation: Inflammation of the TMJ, known as TMJ arthritis, can cause jaw popping along with pain, swelling, and limited jaw movement.
  3. Disc displacement: If the disc within the TMJ becomes displaced or moves out of its proper position, it can result in jaw popping, jaw locking, or difficulty moving the jaw.
  4. Jaw injury or trauma: Any injury or trauma to the jaw joint, such as a dislocation or fracture, can lead to jaw popping. This typically occurs alongside other symptoms like pain, swelling, or difficulty with jaw movement.
  5. Bruxism (teeth grinding): Chronic teeth grinding can put strain on the jaw joint, leading to jaw popping as well as jaw pain, headaches, and tooth damage.

Does jaw popping require treatment?

Whether or not jaw popping requires treatment depends on the underlying cause, severity of symptoms, and impact on your quality of life. In some cases, jaw popping may not require treatment if it is not accompanied by pain or functional limitations. However, if jaw popping is causing discomfort, pain, or interfering with daily activities, treatment options may be considered. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Severity of symptoms: If jaw popping is accompanied by significant pain, difficulty opening or closing the mouth, jaw locking, or limited jaw movement, it may warrant treatment to address the underlying issue.
  2. Impact on daily life: If jaw popping is affecting your ability to eat, speak, or perform daily activities, it may be beneficial to seek treatment to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.
  3. Associated symptoms: If jaw popping is accompanied by other symptoms such as jaw pain, headaches, earaches, or facial pain, it may indicate an underlying condition like a TMJ disorder that could require treatment.
  4. Underlying causes: Treatment may be necessary if the jaw popping is caused by factors like TMJ disorders, jaw joint inflammation, disc displacement, or chronic teeth grinding (bruxism). Treating the underlying cause can help alleviate jaw popping and associated symptoms.

Treatment options for jaw popping can vary depending on the specific condition. They may include:

  • Self-care measures: Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding excessive jaw movements, practicing stress reduction techniques, applying heat or cold packs, and practicing jaw exercises, may be recommended to manage jaw popping.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers or muscle relaxants may help alleviate pain and reduce muscle tension associated with jaw popping. Prescription medications may be considered for more severe cases.
  • Dental interventions: Your dentist may recommend a mouthguard or splint to alleviate jaw popping caused by teeth grinding (bruxism) and reduce strain on the jaw joint.
  • Physical therapy: Specific exercises and techniques provided by a physical therapist or a healthcare professional specializing in TMJ disorders can help improve jaw mobility and reduce popping.
  • Injections: In some cases, corticosteroid injections or botulinum toxin (Botox) injections may be used to reduce inflammation and muscle tension in the jaw joint.
  • Surgical intervention: Surgery is typically reserved for severe cases of jaw popping caused by structural abnormalities or advanced TMJ disorders that do not respond to conservative treatments.
exercises for jaw popping and pain

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a dentist or an oral and maxillofacial specialist, for a proper evaluation and personalized treatment plan based on your specific condition and symptoms. They can provide a diagnosis, determine the need for treatment, and guide you through the available options.

Can stress cause jaw popping?

Yes, stress can contribute to jaw popping or exacerbate existing jaw-related issues. Stress can lead to muscle tension and clenching in the jaw, which can strain the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and surrounding muscles. This excessive muscle tension and clenching may result in jaw popping, clicking, or other symptoms associated with TMJ disorders.

When a person is stressed, they may unconsciously clench or grind their teeth, a condition known as bruxism. Bruxism can place excessive pressure on the jaw joint, leading to jaw popping. Additionally, stress can contribute to overall muscle tension in the body, including the muscles involved in jaw movement.

It’s important to note that stress alone may not be the sole cause of jaw popping, but it can be a contributing factor. Managing stress levels and finding effective stress reduction techniques, such as relaxation exercises, mindfulness techniques, counseling, or other stress management strategies, may help reduce jaw tension and minimize jaw popping.

Can jaw popping be a symptom of TMJ disorder?

Yes, jaw popping can indeed be a symptom of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. TMJ disorders encompass a range of conditions affecting the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jawbone to the skull. When the TMJ is not functioning properly, it can lead to various symptoms, including jaw popping or clicking.

Jaw popping associated with TMJ disorders typically occurs when the jaw is being opened or closed. The popping sound is often caused by the displacement or shifting of the disc within the TMJ. This disc acts as a cushion between the jawbone and the skull, and when it is out of its normal position or not moving smoothly, it can result in the characteristic popping sensation or sound.

In addition to jaw popping, other common symptoms of TMJ disorder may include:

  1. Jaw pain or tenderness
  2. Jaw stiffness or limited range of motion
  3. Facial pain or discomfort
  4. Headaches, including tension headaches or migraines
  5. Earaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or ear congestion
  6. Difficulty chewing or biting
  7. Jaw locking or getting stuck in an open or closed position
  8. Facial muscle spasms

What are the other symptoms of jaw popping?

In addition to jaw popping, there can be other symptoms associated with jaw popping or jaw clicking. These symptoms may vary depending on the underlying cause of the jaw popping. Here are some common symptoms that can occur along with jaw popping:

  1. Jaw pain or tenderness: This can range from mild discomfort to sharp or persistent pain in the jaw joint or surrounding areas.
  2. Jaw stiffness or limited range of motion: You may experience difficulty opening or closing your mouth fully, or you might feel a sense of tightness or stiffness in the jaw joint.
  3. Headaches: Jaw popping can sometimes be accompanied by headaches, including tension headaches or migraines. The pain may radiate from the jaw joint to the temples, forehead, or other areas of the head.
  4. Ear-related symptoms: Some people with jaw popping may experience earaches, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears, or ringing in the ears (tinnitus). These symptoms can occur due to the proximity of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) to the ear structures.
  5. Facial pain or discomfort: You may feel pain or discomfort in the face, especially around the jaw joint or the muscles involved in jaw movement.
  6. Clicking, grating, or popping sounds: In addition to the physical sensation of jaw popping, you may hear clicking, grating, or popping sounds when opening or closing your mouth.
  7. Difficulty chewing or biting: Some individuals with jaw popping may have trouble biting down on food or experience discomfort while chewing. This can affect your ability to eat certain foods or enjoy meals.
  8. Jaw locking or getting stuck: In some cases, the jaw may lock or get stuck in an open or closed position temporarily. This can be a result of disc displacement or other issues with the temporomandibular joint.

Are there any exercises to relieve jaw popping?

Yes, there are exercises that can help relieve jaw popping and improve jaw function. These exercises aim to strengthen and stretch the jaw muscles, increase jaw mobility, and promote relaxation. However, it’s important to note that not all exercises may be suitable for everyone, and it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a dentist or a physical therapist specializing in TMJ disorders, for guidance and to ensure the exercises are appropriate for your specific condition. Here are a few examples of jaw exercises that may help:

  1. Jaw Stretching Exercise:
    • Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
    • Open your mouth wide, as if you’re yawning, while keeping your tongue in place.
    • Hold the stretch for a few seconds, then slowly close your mouth.
    • Repeat this exercise several times a day.
  2. Resisted Jaw Opening Exercise:
    • Place your thumb under your chin, applying gentle pressure.
    • Slowly open your mouth, pushing against the resistance of your thumb.
    • Hold the open position for a few seconds, then release.
    • Repeat this exercise several times, gradually increasing the resistance if comfortable.
  3. Jaw Relaxation Exercise:
    • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
    • Take a few deep breaths to relax.
    • Allow your jaw to relax and separate your teeth slightly.
    • Gently massage the muscles of your jaw using circular motions with your fingertips.
    • Continue the relaxation massage for a few minutes.
  4. Side-to-Side Jaw Movement Exercise:
    • Position your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
    • Move your jaw slowly from side to side, without opening your mouth wide.
    • Perform this exercise in a controlled manner, avoiding any sudden or forceful movements.
    • Repeat the side-to-side movements several times.

Remember to perform these exercises gently and without causing any pain or discomfort. If you experience increased pain or worsening of symptoms during or after performing the exercises, discontinue them and consult with a healthcare professional.

In addition to exercises, other self-care measures, such as applying warm or cold packs, practicing stress reduction techniques, maintaining good posture, and avoiding excessive jaw movements, can also help in relieving jaw popping.

Can jaw popping lead to long-term complications?

Jaw popping alone is not typically considered a serious condition, and in many cases, it may not lead to long-term complications. However, persistent or severe jaw popping, especially when accompanied by other symptoms, could potentially indicate an underlying issue that might require attention. Here are a few scenarios where jaw popping may lead to long-term complications:

  1. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders: If jaw popping is a symptom of an underlying TMJ disorder, such as disc displacement or arthritis, it is possible for the condition to progress and lead to more significant complications over time. These may include chronic pain, joint degeneration, and limited jaw function.
  2. Chronic Jaw Dysfunction: Frequent or continuous jaw popping, especially in conjunction with other TMJ-related symptoms, can result in chronic jaw dysfunction. This might include ongoing discomfort, difficulty chewing or speaking, or limitations in jaw movement.
  3. Damage to Teeth or Bite Irregularities: In cases where jaw popping is linked to teeth grinding (bruxism), the excessive forces exerted on the teeth and jaw joint can potentially cause tooth damage, such as worn-down enamel or fractures. Additionally, the misalignment or altered bite patterns associated with TMJ disorders might contribute to bite irregularities over time.
  4. Chronic Pain and Discomfort: While jaw popping itself may not cause long-term pain or discomfort, it can be a sign of an underlying condition that leads to chronic or recurring symptoms. Persistent jaw pain, headaches, facial pain, or earaches can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life and necessitate long-term management.

It’s important to note that the presence of jaw popping does not necessarily mean that complications will occur. Many cases of jaw popping are benign and do not progress to long-term complications. However, if you are experiencing jaw popping, especially if it is accompanied by other concerning symptoms or impacts your daily life, it is advisable to seek evaluation from a healthcare professional, such as a dentist or oral and maxillofacial specialist. They can assess your specific condition, identify any underlying causes, and recommend appropriate treatment or management strategies to help prevent potential long-term complications.

When should I see a doctor for jaw popping?

It is advisable to see a healthcare professional, such as a dentist or an oral and maxillofacial specialist, if you are experiencing jaw popping and any of the following situations apply:

  1. Persistent or worsening symptoms: If jaw popping persists or worsens over time, it is recommended to seek medical attention. This is especially important if the jaw popping is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, discomfort, limited jaw movement, headaches, or difficulty with daily activities.
  2. Pain or discomfort: If the jaw popping is accompanied by significant pain or discomfort in the jaw joint, facial area, or associated structures, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for an evaluation. Persistent or severe pain can be an indication of an underlying issue that requires attention.
  3. Functional limitations: If the jaw popping affects your ability to open or close your mouth fully, chew, speak, or perform regular activities, it is important to seek medical evaluation. Functional limitations can impact your quality of life and may require treatment or management.
  4. Difficulty with jaw movement: If the jaw popping is accompanied by difficulty or discomfort while moving the jaw, such as jaw locking or getting stuck in an open or closed position, it is recommended to see a healthcare professional for assessment and guidance.
  5. Other associated symptoms: If the jaw popping is associated with other symptoms such as headaches, earaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), facial pain, or muscle spasms, it is advisable to seek medical attention for a comprehensive evaluation.
when should I see a dentist for jaw pain and popping

Remember that a healthcare professional will be able to evaluate your specific condition, provide a proper diagnosis, and recommend appropriate treatment options based on your individual needs. They can determine the underlying cause of the jaw popping and help alleviate any concerns or complications that may arise.


In conclusion, jaw popping can be a common occurrence with various causes and potential implications. While jaw popping alone may not always require treatment or lead to long-term complications, it is important to pay attention to associated symptoms, such as pain, limited jaw movement, or functional limitations. Persistent or severe jaw popping, along with these symptoms, could indicate an underlying issue, such as a TMJ disorder or chronic teeth grinding, which may warrant medical attention.

Exercises, stress management techniques, and self-care measures can often provide relief and improve jaw function. However, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a dentist or an oral and maxillofacial specialist, for an accurate diagnosis and personalized guidance. They can assess the specific situation, determine the underlying cause of the jaw popping, and recommend appropriate treatment options tailored to the individual’s needs.

If jaw popping is accompanied by pain, discomfort, functional limitations, or other concerning symptoms, seeking professional evaluation is highly recommended. Early intervention and appropriate management can help alleviate symptoms, prevent potential complications, and improve overall jaw health and quality of life.

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Ashely Notarmaso

Ashely Notarmaso is the author behind the Sentinel Mouth Guard Blog. She is the CEO and founder of Sentinel Mouth Guards (Founded in 2012) Her long-time work in the dental mouth guard arena and her excellent ability to listen to customer concerns in this often contradictory field has laid the groundwork to explore night guard/mouth guard fabrication in-depth and address real concerns. With the help of her team, she has created a unique fabrication method that promises a great fitting custom oral appliance every time. Amazon’s choice for #1 mouth guard! Visit the online store http://sentinelmouthguards.com

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