Snap, Crackle, Pop: Understanding TMD/TMJ

Snap, Crackle, Pop: Understanding TMD/TMJ

Here’s a stat that will make your jaw drop: Millions of adults suffer from frequent pain in their face, such as headaches, earaches, and jaw pain. The possible cause could be related to the temporomandibular joints on each side of your head, commonly known as TMJ. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw. TMJ disorders — a type of temporomandibular disorder or TMD — can cause pain in your jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.

Causes of TMJ Disorder

 The temporomandibular joint is similar to a hinge, combined with sliding motions. The parts of the bone that interact in the joint are separated by a disk that absorbs shock and normally keeps the jaw moving smoothly. However, painful TMJ disorders can be caused by:

  • Various types of arthritis
  • Jaw injuries
  • Constant grinding or clenching of teeth
  • The disk eroding or moving out of its proper alignment

Snap. Crackle. Pop.

 People who suffer from TMJ disorder will often experience a clicking or popping sound when they open and close their jaws. They may also feel a grating sensation when chewing food. Additional signs and symptoms include:

  • Locking of the joints, making it difficult to move your jaw
  • Pain while chewing
  • Tenderness of the jaw
  • Throbbing facial pain
  • Pain in and around the ears
  • Headaches or neck aches
  • Sensitive teeth despite not finding other dental problems

What a Pain

While the symptoms of TMJ disorder can be extremely uncomfortable, in most cases the discomfort will eventually go away on its own with treatments you can try on your own, which include:

  • Reducing teeth clenching and grinding (a night guard can help with this)
  • Eating softer foods
  • Avoid gum chewing and nail biting
  • Apply heat packs to the areas of face that are in pain
  • Learning relaxation techniques to ease tension in the jaw

If the pain from TMJ disorder persists, and simple self-care exercises aren’t working, it may be time to schedule an appointment with one of our dental professionals.

Diagnosing TMJ

Correctly identifying TMJ disorder is the first step in starting the right course of treatment. It’s important to let a dentist perform a physical evaluation since other dental conditions, like tooth aches or sinus infections, can cause similar symptoms. Part of a dental examination could include:

  • Checking the joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, or popping
  • Making a cast of your teeth to see how your bite fits together
  • Taking special x-rays to review the TM joints.

In some cases your dentist might recommend fixing an uneven bite, reshaping teeth, or other orthodontic treatments that are most appropriate based on the evaluation.

Concerned About TMJ?

 Keep in mind that in most cases the discomfort from TMJ will go away on its own. If the pain in your face persists or you have difficulty opening and closing your jaw completely, seek medical attention as soon as possible.


If you have concerns about TMJ contact us at our Pittsford, NY office today at (585) 348-2575 to schedule a consultation and learn about the various treatments we offer. Our staff is happy to answer any questions you have. Pittsford Dental Excellence Center provides total oral healthcare to patients in Fairport, Pittsford, and Rochester, NY.

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