“Clicking” or “cracking” when eating or yawning are common symptoms of jaw joint dysfunction called ‘temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction or TMD’. Often people do not seek help until it becomes very tight or painful to open or close the mouth, chew, speak or yawn.
What’s happening when I hear a “click” or “crack?”
In many cases, the clicking or cracking originate from an articular disc moving out of the jaw joint or what had moved out previously, goes back in. There is a pair of jaw joints so both discs or one disc can cause these symptoms.
Why does the disc move out or go back in?
The jaw joint is a joint formed between one of the skull bones called the temporal bone and a sharp pointy part of the mandible (jaw) called the condyle. The mandible has no bony connection but instead sits suspended and held in place by the muscles of mastication (chewing) coming off the skull, joint capsules and ligaments that act like guide wires. The jaw joint is located just immediately in front of your ear canal.
If you place your index fingers in the ear canal and open and close your mouth, you can feel the condyles move and glide away. You may even feel the disc pop, click or crack as you open or close your mouth.
The reason for your symptoms can be due to the muscles that move the jaw joint becoming tight, overactive or going into spasm, or the capsules or ligaments becoming tight or scarred. This can be caused by a number of events and factors such as facial injuries, extensive oral or dental procedures (e.g. removal of wisdom teeth under anaesthesia), or simply have had an unwanted habit of clenching or grinding your teeth while sitting poorly at work or during the night and is often associated with periods of increased stress. Headaches coming from the neck or jaw are symptoms that we often see in these patients and something that we can address at the same time.
Physiotherapists are experts in finding out the primary cause of your jaw symptoms by accurately assessing and treating the muscles, joint capsules or ligaments or combination of them.