Click Goes My Jaw

Question: Why is there a ‘clicking’ sound in my jaw whenever I chew food? I am conscious of it as I am sure people around me can hear it too. What causes this? Can surgery fix it?

Answer: The clicking sound most likely comes from the jaw joint known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The TMJ is a hinge that joins the lower jaw to the upper jaw and is one of the most complex joints in the body — it helps the mouth open and close, and move from side to side, as well as move the lower jaw forward and back. Structurally, it consists of an intricate system of muscles, discs, bones and ligaments. At times, clicking can be heard or felt. This is often caused by the misalignment of the discs within the joint. As this joint is located close to the ear canal, the sound is perceived to be much louder to the individual than it is to other people. It is difficult to determine the exact cause for the misalignment, but it can be caused by factors such as bad biting habits, jaw clenching, tooth grinding, stress or arthritis.

Related: Q&A: Teeth Grinding

Sometimes, there are other symptoms associated with clicking sounds such as pain, problems with opening the mouth wide, the jaw becoming ‘stuck’ when opening the mouth or when the mouth is closed, popping or grating sounds when chewing, muscle tenderness or swelling. When clicking sounds appear with these other symptoms, it may be suggestive of temporomandibular disorder (TMD), which might require further assessment, diagnosis and treatment by a specialist dentist such as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. The dentist or surgeon might suggest treatments such as home-care measures, pain medication, night guard, intra-articular steroid injections, TENS therapy, restorative dentistry, ultrasound, arthroscopy and surgery.

Dr. Vivian Wong
Dental Surgeon
Toa Payoh Polyclinic
National Healthcare Group Polyclinics

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