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A Popping Click When You Open Your Jaw Is Pretty Common

The Temporomandibular JointIf you experience a popping sound, a grating sound, or a click when you open your mouth, you're not alone.  Many people have slight problems with their jaw joint, which is formally known as the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ for short. Whenever we want to open our mouth, our jaw glides down and forward to allow our mouth to open.

The rounded end of the jaw bone that glides down is called the condyle.  Between the condyle and our skull, there is a small, soft, lubricated disk that allows our jaw to open smoothly.  This is called the articular disk.

Sometimes, that disk may not be big enough, or it may not be the right shape to allow the jaw bone to smoothly glide forward and down when you open your mouth.   When this happens, it is a condition known as crepitus.

Crepitus is a word that is used to describe the grating, crackling, and/or popping sounds that are heard around people's joints.

Unfortunately, not everyone has jaw joints.  When I open my mouth, my jaw slides down and out nicely on the right side, but on my left side, there is a loud popping noise.  Luckily this only happens when I open my mouth really wide, so it doesn't affect me when I chew gum or eat (unless it's a really big hamburger!)

How Common Is Crepitus?

Crepitus, or a popping/clicking noise in the jaw joint is fairly common.  Dr. Woelfel, in his book Woelfel's Dental Anatomy analyzed the jaws of 1099 dental and dental hygiene students between 1970 and 1986 to determine how common crepitus was among them.  He had each student open their mouth as far as they could. Here is what he found:

  • 61.2% of the students had no popping or clicking sounds upon opening their mouths all the way.
  • 38.9% of the students did have popping or clicking sounds when they opened their mouths all the way. Of those Students:
    • 17.1% had crepitus on the right side of their jaw when opening.
    • 12.7% had crepitus on the left side of their jaw when opening. (That's what I have!)
    • and 9.1% had crepitus on both sides of their jaw when opening.

As you can see, over 1/3 of the people that Dr. Woelfel screened had crepitus!  It sounds like a common occurrence.

How Crepitus Is Treated

Crepitus is usually treated in the most conservative way possible.  Many dental experts recommend the most conservative, reversible treatment. Some conservative suggestions that may help you are:

  • Eating Soft Foods
  • Applying ice packs if you experience pain or swelling in the TMJ area
  • Avoiding behaviors that cause pain, such as opening your mouth wide (when yawning, eating, yelling, singing, etc.) or chewing gum.

How I Deal With My TMJ Pain

Usually I only have to deal with the occasional popping/clicking of my jaw when I eat.  Sometimes, when I chew gum for a whole day, I do get some pain in my TMJ area.  I usually just try to relax my jaw and not chew gum or any other hard foods.  When my gets really tense and I can't open it all the way, I back off.  It needs a break.  Usually after a few hours of relaxation, my jaw will be back to normal.

Usually, a popping noise in your temporomandibular joint isn't anything to worry about if it's not causing you any problems.  If it does start to cause problems, there are many invasive treatments that you can try.  An oral surgeon (one of the nine dental specialties) may be the most knowledgable person to handle these types of problems.

Do you have crepitus?  Has it bothered you in your life?  Let us know in the comments!


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28 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. I was just browsing through some of your older articles, and I saw this one. I have crepitus on both sides of my jaw. It started on the right side, but the left side pops now also, though not as severely. I used to be a gum chewing addict but I rarely, if ever, chew now because I worry about exacerbating the crepitus. I'm glad to know it's fairly common and not something to be overly concerned with.

    • Thanks for looking through the archives, Rachel! We usually don't worry about clicking unless it hurts to open/close your mouth. It sounds like you're already taking good care of your TMJ.

  2. Hi, I'm 13 year old girl and I have bad habit of popping my knuckles. I can practically pop every part in my body; my wrist, my fingers, my elbow, my back, my neck, my knee, my toes, my ankles, even my jaw! I know that popping is not good, but I can't help it. It feels good popping my jaw but I'm worried that some day my jaw will get loose and fall off. What happens to the bone in my jaw when I crack it?
    Is this related to TMJ?

    • Hi Aria - Your jaw probably won't fall off - I wouldn't worry about that! By popping it, you may be irritating your temporomandibular joint, which may cause joint pain when you get older. We usually recommend not popping your jaw as it can aggravate the delicate anatomy inside of the joint.

      Every time you pop your jaw, you are putting stress on the "articular disc" that insulates the jaw joint. You may eventually wear out this disc, which would cause a lot of pain in the future - which is related to TMJ.

      I hope that helps - Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for your comment, Aria!

  3. I have a 10 year old that recently told me his jaw is popping and grinding when he opens his mouth, it doesnt have to be wide just opening it happens. Should i take him to the dentist or doctor?

  4. Hi! When I open my mouth, my lower jaw shifts to the right and there is a popping from the left side. I am really bothered by this, even though it doesnt pain much. Is there any way to correct this problem, how long should it take to go away? Please help!
    Thanks

  5. Hey Tom, my mouth started making a clicking noise when I open it really wide.It just started happening today.I previously had braces and now am wearing a retainer.I don't experience any pain but I am worried.

  6. hi this zach
    ever time i eat food
    my jaw get pain
    under tooth
    it wont let me eat
    i will take asprain
    help out
    i can take my fringer where the pain at
    it hurts bad
    idk why
    i cant firquire this
    never done this before

  7. five days ago,pain starts in my right jaw with pop sound bt nw pain has gone bt pop sound still comes.what to do to correct it?

    • My problem was I would clench my jaw all the time when i realised it was a problem i stopped doing it and 5 days latter the popping has stopped. Maybe you are doing this? I had no idea that I did until my jaw started popping

  8. My daughter is 5 yrs old. Whenever she yawns, her jaw joint tends to click and move in wobbly sort of way in order to shut. Her paed told us not to worry (three years ago) that this will correct itself.

    Please advise, should we seek a specialist's opinion?

  9. Hi. About six months ago, I started noticing that when I speak, there is a clicking, crackling noise. It seems to get worse as the day progresses. Other people cannot hear it. Also, during this time, my teeth started to ache and my face hurts. Some days are better than others. When I experience this discomfort, I notice that I can't talk as well or clearly. Both my dentist and an oral surgeon say I have TMJ. I used to grind my teeth at night, but haven't done that for years, but I do find myself clenching. I really don't think I do it in my sleep since, when I wake up, I usually don't have the pain or the noise when I speak. I was told to wear a night guard and have been given a muscle relaxer and an anti-inflammatory, none of which have helped much.

    I also have had, for quite some time, crepitus noises in my neck. I'm wondering if the crepitus has worked its way up into my jaw, and if this could be an arthritis issue rather than the TMJ. Is there anything I can do about this? I'm not sure what type of doctor to go to or where to go from here. It's driving me nuts. Any suggestions, thanks.

  10. Hi Folks,
    My problems started when I was 24 years old.. when my wisdom teeth grew and prevented me from closing my mouth I did not seem to understand what was happening at the time and tried to eat and close my mouth as I thought that I had to adjust to my new teeth. It is only years later that I realise that I have damaged the left jaw joint by tying to eat by making my jaw close when it was in pain. After 2-3 weeks after the teeth came through I had the 4 wisdom teeth reomoved as I had a locked jaw.
    I am now 50 years and the past 2 years I ave suffered terrible pain in my left ear area and was wrongly diagnosed with just an inflammed ear. I kept asking my specialist why my ear was inflammed and there we just comments like .. "just allergies"... which I believed was rubbish as the pain was too severe for an allergy. After various visits to chiropractors and doctors, with no definite diagnosis.. I eventually visited my dentist and he told me my jaw was dislocated. After virtually a 25yr existence with the condition I am now in agony and await NHS Orthondist unit in UK for help.
    My symptons are severe pain at back of ear, a feeling like sciatica down my face, neck and shoulders, scalp pain and a pain so severe that it feels like it is in the bones of my skull. I have always had a slight click in my jaw and because I managed to deal with slight pain in my head, ignored it for years as I was able to carry on without too much trouble. Quite often I just thought I suffered bad headaches, but I have now read that I may have a disc displacement, but await to see if UK NHS health services can help me. One problem is that NHS has long waiting lists for even urgent cases.. so I have to wait now to receive help. Meanwhile I am trying to eat and go to work and feel like I am death's door with increased pain and no brief interludes of relief from pain. All the pain killers just seem like water on a duck's back. Anyway painkillers only mask the real problem and I feel that the problem is definitely mechanical and that inflammation is the result of a malfunctioning joint. TMJ is similar to the pain of a slipped disc in your back as I have endured that too. However it is worse as the pain is in the head area, which makes it difficult to think and concentrate, thus affecting your whole life immensely.
    TMJ is not a yuppy's disease .. It is real and has a devasting effect on an individual, when years of increased pain without much relief is endured. It is good that the medical profession now recognise this as a real issue for some people and that many new research projects are occuring around the world in order to discover a proper cure. I never believed in my wildest dreams that I would be suffering such a strange condition that affects you 24/7. We use our jaw and related muscles and tendons for eating, talking, swallowing, smiling and I am sure for other things that I am not aware of. It is a difficult joint to rest as we use it so regularly and unlike a bad tooth or appendix it is not something we can remove to rid ourselves of its torturing pain.
    So if you hear of anyone trying to eat with a painful jaw soon after their wisdom teeth arrive.. please help the person , by telling them to go straight away to their dentist for immediate help as they may avoid the terrible dehibilating condition of tmj, which is a devil to get rid of.
    I await my treatment in hope for a cure.
    I empathise with all who are going through severe tmj.
    Regards, Susan

  11. Hi,

    Since 2-3 months, my left jaw clicks when i open the mouth widely, i dont have any other problem but sometime its irritating & sometime i dont feel to open my mouth widely...

    please suggest, should i see dentist for this or do we have any other solution without seeing doc?

  12. Hi,
    My 7 year old son keeps clicking his jaw on purpose as he says he likes doing it and after reading the above I'm seriously worried if he continues he will have problems in the future. He also clicks his fingers, ankles and anything else he can find to click, will this cause problems?
    Many thanks

    • Hi,

      I have an 8 year old son who starte doing this a few months ago as well. It started with the neck cracking then jaw cracking and his leg etc. It has been 3 months and he says he can't stop. I was wondering how your son is doing. My son also got ezcema (dry skin) the same time he started doing this cracking stuff.

  13. A couple months ago I started to have a LOT of pain in my left jaw. It seems to be mostly concentrated in my TMJ area. But the pain often spreads through my upper and lower teeth on the left half of my mouth, and the left half of my jawbone feels like I got hit with a sledgehammer. Sometimes my jaw pain is accompanied by a deep earache in my left ear (Like someone is stabbing my ear drum) and/or a pain in my left temple like I'm being stabbed with an ice pick. Also, when whatever this is starts acting up, my teeth on the left side start to feel like they're crowding (And I do already have minor crowding. My dentist said something along the lines of my jaw is too small for my mouth so my teeth have crowded and I have a seriously bad overbite. When I bite down all the way, you can barely see 10% of my bottom teeth). I've noticed it's aggravated by chewing on the left side of my mouth or sucking really hard on a straw (like a milkshake). It's uncomfortable to open my mouth wide because my jaw starts to get stiff, but I can still force it open all the way (I try to avoid that though), but there's not really a pop or click or any of that. It's only popped two or three times when I yawned really big, but that's it. I have read that malocclusions (like my overbite) can contribute to TMJ as well as my other jaw issues my dentist described. Do you think this could be a Temporomandibular Disorder? I can't really get to a dentist (my usual dentist at my dad's isn't open when I'm at his house, and my mom just can't be bothered to make it a priority because she doesn't feel it's worth the money for an exam), but I get this pain at least three times a day, usually more, and I'm constantly wolfing down Ibuprofen and hogging the ice packs in the house. How serious do you think this is?

  14. hello i am 17 and started noticing when i open my mouth all most all the way they are a small pop on the left side of my jaw is this tmj? it dose not hurt and i don't have any other symptoms what else could it be?

  15. In the morning after waking up, opening my mouth I will experience a popping/cracking sound. Once it happens it goes away.

    When I was a child I must have had a mild form of OCD with regards to this, because I just *had* to crack my jaw. Once I did it it went away for a while. If I wasn't able to crack it at first, I kept at it until I "found the spot". Same thing with my ears, strangely enough. Yeah, I can pop something in my ears by pulling the bottom of my ear back and up in just the right way. Ugh.

    Anyways, I don't get it during the day anymore. It's only when I wake up, or after a period of being tense, that I get this thing, on both jaws.

    • Hi JK - Thanks for your comment. It's likely that you are grinding your teeth. Whenever you grind your teeth, subconsciously or consciously, it can put a lot of stress on your TMJ. You may want to discuss this with your dentist to see if you are grinding, and find out what they recommend (usually some sort of mouthguard that is worn at night) to keep it from causing further problems.

    • Interesting you note the possibility of OCD as a child. My son stopped cracking his jaw. He now kicks/twitches his foot every once and awhile. He is a pretty normal kid except for this occasional odd habit.

  16. Wow, I've had this all my life (as far back as I can remember) and didn't think anything of it, ie never realised it was a recognised condition until now. The right hand side of my jaw clicks/pops twice when both opening and closing (once when partially opened/closed and once when fully opened and closed.) It causes some pain and discomfort once in a while when my jaw can lock up and for a while can't get passed the second click when opening. This corrects itself after some time, usually no longer than a half hour to an hour.

    Thanks for the information.

    • Thanks for your comment, Katherine! The locking can occur because of the way the piece of cartilage moves around that insulates your temporomandibular joint. If it gets too problematic, you could always have an MRI done on the joint to find out if there are any specific problems that need to be addressed.

  17. Thanks, Reddit user Rose2080 for submitting this article on Reddit's Today I Learned feature.

  18. I've always wondered why my jaw popped, and if there was a name for the condition.

    My jaw pops when i open my jaw wide and quickly, -for example when yawning- either on one side or sometimes both sides. When it pops it seems like a pressure has been lifted under my ear(s) that i didn't realize was there, and when i close my jaw again there's a sort of squelching sound.

    Sometimes, although rarely, i can feel the irritating numbing pressure under my ear and the only way to eliminate it is to deliberately pop my jaw.

    This has been going on for years and hasn't effected my daily life other than be a nuisance.

  19. Hey-a, I never had TMJ up until 3 and a half years ago. After highschool graduation I broke my jaw-hinge area while biking. Ever since I've had to deal with pretty much excruciating pain every night. My family-doctor claims I must go through Massage-treatment, expensive medication, or risky surgery if I am to ever treat and live with this pain properly..

    What other things can I do to ensure relief for this pain that isn't any of these or simply "take a break from using your jaw"??

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Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

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