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!