Symptoms A-Z

Jaw Clicking Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your jaw clicking symptoms, including 4 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 4 Possible Jaw Clicking Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

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 [1].

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

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 [2].
  • Dentures: If dentures don't fit properly they can lead to malocclusion.

Skeletal causes:

  • Misalignment of the jaw bones: This 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 [3].

Psychological causes:

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

4 Possible Jaw Clicking Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced jaw clicking. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.

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

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by attacking foreign pathogens mistakenly begins attacking the own body's tissues. In adults, RA is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis caused by autoimmunity.

RA is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the joints (synovium). This immune activity results in inflammation in the synovium that causes it to thicken and expand. The thickening destroys the cartilage and bone of the joint and causes the tendons and ligaments of the joint to weaken and stretch.

Over time, the cartilage loss continues, the space between bones becomes smaller, and eventually the joint becomes loose, painful and unstable. As the condition becomes more advanced, RA can also affect multiple organ systems, including the eyes, skin, lungs and the cardiovascular system.

Diagnosis is through physical examination, blood tests, and X-rays.

Treatments include lifestyle modifications, several classes of medications, and sometimes surgery.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Dislocation of the jaw

A jaw dislocation is when the bones of the mandible (lower jaw) come unhinged from the bones of the side of the head.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: jaw pain from an injury, locking or dislocating jaw

Symptoms that always occur with dislocation of the jaw: jaw pain from an injury

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is also called chronic myofascial pain (CMP.) Pressure on certain points of the muscles causes referred pain, meaning the pain is felt elsewhere in the body.

The cause is believed to be muscle injury through overuse, either from sports or from a job requiring repetitive motion. Tension, stress, and poor posture can also cause habitual tightening of the muscles, a form of overuse.

This overuse causes scar tissue, or adhesions, to form in the muscles. These points are known as trigger points, since they trigger pain at any stimulus.

Symptoms include deep, aching muscular pain that does not go away with rest or massage, but may actually worsen. There is often difficulty sleeping due to pain.

Myofascial pain syndrome should be seen by a medical provider, since it can develop into a similar but more severe condition called fibromyalgia.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and applying mild pressure to locate the trigger points.

Treatment involves physical therapy, pain medications, and trigger point injections. In some cases, acupuncture and antidepressants are helpful.

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

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 directly by stress [4]. 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 [5]. 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

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Has your dentist or significant other ever told you that you grind your teeth in your sleep?
  • Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • About your ear, do you feel a warm or fluid sensation in your ear?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out why you're having jaw clicking

Jaw Clicking Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced jaw clicking have also experienced:

  • 11% Jaw Pain
  • 4% Jaw Stiffness
  • 3% Moderate Jaw Pain

People who have experienced jaw clicking were most often matched with:

  • 50% Dislocation Of The Jaw
  • 25% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
  • 25% Rheumatoid Arthritis

People who have experienced jaw clicking had symptoms persist for:

  • 28% Over a month
  • 27% Less than a day
  • 27% Less than a week

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Jaw Clicking Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated June 8, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  2. Fotek I, eds. Malocclusion of teeth. Penn State Hershey: Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Updated February 5, 2018. Penn Hershey Link.
  3. Kalladka M, Quek S, Heir G, Eliav E, Mupparapu M, Viswanath A. Temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis: Diagnosis and long-term conservative management: A topic review. J Indian Prosthodont Soc. 2013;14(1):6-15. NCBI Link.
  4. Sutin AR, Terracciano A, Ferrucci L, Costa PT. Teeth grinding: Is emotional stability related to bruxism?. J Res Pers. 2010;44(3):402-5. NCBI Link.
  5. TMJ and MPD. National Headache Foundation. National Headache Foundation Link.