Read below about jaw clicking, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your jaw clicking from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Jaw Clicking Symptoms

  • While chewing or speaking you may begin to notice an off-and-on clicking or popping sound that seems to be coming from inside your head, at a point just in front of or just above your ear. This is in your temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which is the hinged joint that connects your upper and lower jaws.
  • The clicking may seem to be a harmless, though annoying, symptom, and is often painless. But a clicking jaw is almost always a sign of some misalignment of your teeth, your jawbones, or your jaw muscles, and should be investigated by a medical provider so that the underlying cause can be treated before it might get any worse. Jaw clicking is a type of temporomandibular disorder, or TMD.

Characteristics:

Duration:

  • Sometimes TMD will resolve on its own, especially if you make an effort to manage your stress and control habits like grinding your teeth.
  • But in many cases, the symptoms continue or even get worse as time passes.

Is jaw clicking serious?

  • If there is no pain associated with the clicking, you might not need to see a medical provider.
  • But if there is pain or discomfort, or the simple annoyance of the clicking is reason enough, your medical provider can certainly help and refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Jaw Clicking Causes Overview

Many conditions can have jaw clicking as a symptom. The most common are those causing severe strain and tension in the muscles of the head and neck, although misalignment of the jawbones may have the same symptom.

Muscular causes:

  • This means anything that strains and overworks the muscles of the jaw until they don't work together smoothly any longer. The result is an uneven stretching and retracting of the muscles. You hear this unevenness as a click, since it occurs in the jaw's hinge joint right at your ears.

Dental causes:

  • Teeth grinding : Constantly, and subconsciously, grinding or clenching the teeth can overwork the jaw muscles.
  • Malocclusion of the teeth: If the teeth do not meet correctly, and you have a bite that is off center, this can cause an uneven strain on some of the jaw muscles.
  • Dentures which don't fit well and cause malocclusion.

Skeletal causes:

  • Misalignment of the jaw bones may cause a click when you try to open or close your mouth, which forces the uneven hinge joint to work.
  • Congenital misalignment: This means you have some inherited deformity of your jawbones which prevents them from lining up properly and, therefore, opening and closing smoothly.
  • Injury: If your jaw is broken or dislocated through an injury, it may be left misaligned and clicking even after it seems to have healed.
  • Disease: Some degenerative bone and connective tissue disorders can damage the alignment of your jaw's hinge joint.

Psychological causes:

  • Stress: can cause great tension in the cheeks and jaws, also overworking these muscles.

10 Potential Jaw Clicking Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    Outcome is highly case-dependent.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder:
    pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)

    Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal.

    7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, jaw pain, ear pain that gets worse when moving
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Myofascial Pain Syndrome

    Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic musculoskeletal syndrome caused by trigger points within muscle. Pressure on these points causes pain in the area around the point as well as in other body parts, a phenomenon known as referred pain.

    Resolution of pain is dependent on type of treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, tender muscle knot, general numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome:
    tender muscle knot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Infected Wisdom Tooth (Pericoronitis)

    Pericoronitis of the 3rd molar is an infection of the gums surrounding the 3rd molar (wisdom tooth). It almost never happens to normal teeth because wisdom teeth take a long time to break the gums (erupt). It's believed that once the wisdom tooth breaks the surface of the gums, the bacteria in the mouth get into the gums at that spot and cause an infection. This is also worsened by food particles that build up in the area.

    Need treatment for it to get better

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    possible wisdom tooth pain, moderate tooth pain, tooth pain that makes chewing difficult, severe tooth pain, mild tooth pain
    Symptoms that always occur with infected wisdom tooth (pericoronitis):
    possible wisdom tooth pain
    Urgency:
    In-person visit

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  6. 6.Chronic Salivary Duct Stone (Sialolithiasis)

    A salivary duct stone is the most common disorder of the salivary glands (where you make spit). They can range in size from tiny particles to stones that are several centimeters in length.

    Symptoms last 26 days on average

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    swelling on one side of the face, swollen jaw, spontaneous jaw pain, painful jaw swelling, painful face swelling
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  7. 7.Middle Ear Infection

    Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, occur when the tubes that carry sound become clogged with debris like mucus.

    With proper treatment, middle ear infections generally resolve within a week.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, sore throat, new headache, fever, ear canal pain
    Symptoms that always occur with middle ear infection:
    ear canal pain
    Symptoms that never occur with middle ear infection:
    vertigo (extreme dizziness), face weakness, facial numbness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Acute Salivary Duct Stone (Sialolithiasis)

    A salivary duct stone is the most common disorder of the salivary glands (where you make spit). They can range in size from tiny particles to stones that are several centimeters in length.

    Symptoms last 26 days on average

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    swelling on one side of the face, swollen jaw, painful face swelling, spontaneous jaw pain, painful jaw swelling
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  9. 9.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when they're sick collect excess mucus and can become infected. When your symptoms are persisting for 10 days or more or are getting worse over time, it's more likely that you'll have a bacterial infection as compared to a viral infection.

    7-15 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    clear runny nose, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

    Impingement syndrome is a common shoulder condition seen in aging adults. The tendons of rotator cuff muscles, whose action is to rotate the arm such such as during a tennis swing, pass in a narrow space between two bones in the shoulder. When the space becomes too narrow, which can happen as a result of an overuse injury, pain may develop as the tendons rub against the bones.

    Impingement may take weeks to months to settle.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder, shoulder pain from overuse
    Symptoms that always occur with rotator cuff tendonitis:
    pain in one shoulder
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Jaw Clicking Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if your jaw is clicking after you've suffered a blow to the head or face through a fall, an automobile accident, or some other injury.

Schedule an appointment with

  • Your dentist, if you believe you have a malocclusion (a bite that is off center.)
  • Your regular medical provider, if you believe you have a misalignment of the jaw. This could have been present from birth or may be due to a prior injury. Your provider can also arrange for physical therapy to help correct the TMD.
  • A psychologist or other counselor, for help with stress management and easing tension.

Remedies that you can try at home

  • Making lifestyle changes to improve diet, exercise, and sleep habits, which can all help to reduce stress.
  • Making a conscious effort to stop grinding your teeth. An inexpensive mouth guard, available over-the-counter in drug stores, is helpful to some patients.
  • Using hot or cold packs on the painful areas of the TMJ.
  • Taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.

FAQs About Jaw Clicking

Here are some frequently asked questions about jaw clicking.

Can stress cause jaw clicking?

No, jaw clicking is most commonly caused by swelling of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It can frequently be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen. It is not caused by stress. Jaw clicking can, however, be caused by chronic teeth grinding which can cause inflammation of the temporomandibular joint.

What does it mean when your jaw clicks all the time?

It may mean that you have a disorder of your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Common disorders include temporomandibular joint dysfunction or temporomandibular joint dislocation. Dysfunction is most commonly inflammation of the joint due to an infection or teeth grinding. Infections may occur following an ear infection and teeth grinding, especially nighttime grinding, may be due to stress.

Why is my jaw clicking when I eat?

Your jaw may be clicking when you eat because as you eat you use your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The swelling increases the pressure in the joint which escapes as the joint is stretched, causing a clicking noise. This clicking may be because of how your jaw sits and has developed or it may be a sign of inflammation.

Why does my jaw clicking cause a headache?

Jaw clicking is associated with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, which may also cause a headache. Usually they are one-sided but can affect both sides of the head. If you grind your teeth at night headaches may occur in the morning.

Why does your jaw pop when you yawn?

Your jaw pops when you yawn because you are stretching your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). As the joint stretches, it allows carbon dioxide or nitrogen that is dissolved in the joint fluid or synovial fluid to expand, causing a clicking sound as that gas escapes the joint capsule. Usually this is a painless clicking or popping sensation.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Jaw Clicking

  • Q.Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Q.Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Has your dentist or significant other ever told you that you grind your teeth in your sleep?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our jaw clicking symptom checker to find out more.

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Jaw Clicking Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced jaw clicking have also experienced:

    • 12% Jaw Pain
    • 3% Jaw Stiffness
    • 3% Ear Fullness / Pressure
  • People who have experienced jaw clicking had symptoms persist for:

    • 28% Over a Month
    • 28% Less Than a Week
    • 27% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced jaw clicking were most often matched with:

    • 57% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
    • 13% Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)
    • 6% Fibromyalgia
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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