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What Is Jaw Cracking, Know its Causes and Treatment?

What Is Jaw Cracking?

Jaw cracking, also known as jaw popping is the snapping and clicking sound in the jaw. It occurs along with jaw pain and discomfort.

Depending on the underlying condition moving the jaw would also be difficult.

What Is Jaw Cracking?

Jaw cracking would not be of much concern in most of the cases. But, if you recently sustained a facial injury, chances of dislocation or breaking the jaw are more. In such a case, you would need emergency medical care.

What Can Cause Cracking In The Jaw?

Several causes can lead to cracking in the jaw that includes:

1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

The jaw bone is attached to the skull at the temporomandibular joint. Anything wrong in the joint is termed as a temporomandibular joint disorder.

The temporomandibular joint disorder may lead to cracking in the jaw along with the following symptoms(1):

  • Jaw stiffness
  • Pain in face, neck, and jaw
  • Limited jaw movement
  • Locking of the jaw

There is no specific cause of the temporomandibular joint disorder, but it’s believed to occur from clenching of the jaw during an emotional outburst.

According to the National Institute of Craniofacial Research, temporomandibular affects women more than men(2).

2. Arthritis

Damaged and inflammation of joints is known as arthritis. If arthritis affects the temporomandibular joint, it can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder or jaw cracking.

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect temporomandibular joints.

Along with cracking of joints, it can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain in joint and stiffness
  • Poor range of motion

3. Injury or Dislocation Of The Jaw

Injuries to the face can break or dislocate the jaw.

Common facial injuries include:

The symptoms of facial injury and dislocation include:

  • Difficulty in talking
  • Crooked bite
  • Facial pain
  • Jaw locking
  • Difficulty in closing the mouth
  • Damage to the teeth
  • Facial numbness
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty in chewing
  • Bruising swelling and bleeding

4. Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome leads to pain in the muscles and fascia (a sheet of connective tissue that covers every muscle).

This syndrome can affect any muscle of the jaw, neck, and shoulder. There may be cracking and popping in the jaw along with:

  • Pain muscle knots
  • Throbbing jaw pain
  • Headache
  • Jaw muscle tenderness
  • Difficulty in sleeping

5. Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is repeated and brief stops in breathing during sleep. It occurs due to a narrow airway in the throat.

Obstructive sleep apnea increases the chances of occurrence of temporomandibular joint disorder. It may lead to a stress response which may cause the jaws to clench together.

Along with cracking of jaw other symptoms include:

  • Daytime tiredness
  • Snoring
  • Shifts in mood
  • Dry mouth
  • Morning headache

6. Malocclusion Of The Teeth

Misalignment of the upper and lower jaw is known as malocclusion. It causes the upper and lower teeth to line up incorrectly.

Different types of malocclusion include:

  • Open bite
  • Overbite
  • Crossbite
  • Crowded teeth
  • Underbite

The main symptom of malocclusion includes teeth misalignment. Other symptoms include:

  • Mouth breathing
  • Speech issues
  • Difficulty in chewing
  • Change in facial appearance

7. Infection

Pain along with jaw cracking may indicate an infection in the salivary gland, jawbone, and temporomandibular joint disorder.

Depending on the site of infection there may be:

  • Difficulty in opening the mouth
  • Abnormal taste in the mouth
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Dry mouth
  • Open ulcers

8. Tumor

Tumor in the oral cavity can lead to oral cancer. It may lead to the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in hearing
  • Non-healing sores in the mouth
  • Voice changes
  • Persistent earache
  • Swelling in neck and face
  • Pain in the mouth
  • Unexplained weight loss

The tumor can affect the way the jaw moves and lead to noises of cracking and popping in the jaw.

How To Treat Jaw Cracking?

Home remedies

  • Over-the-counter prescriptions can help ease jaw discomfort.
  • Jaw stretches and massages can help reduce tension.
  • Avoiding hard food can keep the symptoms from worsening
  • Heat and ice pack can relieve inflammation and temporomandibular joint disorder function.
  • Avoid overextension jaws by restricting activities such as chewing gum, singing loudly, etc.
  • As stress triggers temporomandibular joint disorder, stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, and regular exercise can help.

If the home remedies do not helps, the treatment of the underlying condition can treat the cracking in the jaw.

If the jaw cracking is due to a serious condition, medical treatment may be required.

  • Prescription medication is given by the doctor, if, over the counter medication does not help.
  • Oral splints can be used to reposition the jaw and reduce the chances of temporomandibular joint disorder.
  • Mouthguards can be used to reduce the grinding of teeth and related discomforts.
  • Botox injections would help alleviate temporomandibular joint pain.
  • Arthrocentesis, a procedure to remove debris and inflammation by-products from the temporomandibular joints.
  • Corrective dental works can be done for the misalignment of the upper and lower jaw.
  • Corrective surgeries can be done for jaw deformities

If you have cracking sound in the jaw, pay attention to the symptoms.  If there is persistent pain, consult a doctor to get an appropriate advice and treatment.

Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 29, 2020

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