Jaw Popping

Jaw popping is a common symptom of TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder). Causes include trauma, stress and clenching your teeth. Treatments include lifestyle changes, home remedies, and nonsurgical or surgical approaches.

Overview

What is jaw popping?

Jaw popping refers to a clicking or cracking sound when you speak, chew or yawn. It’s a common symptom of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, or TMD. People who develop jaw clicking as a symptom of TMD commonly have other symptoms, such as:

Jaw clicking can range from mild to severe, and it can affect one or both sides of your face. Depending on the severity of your condition, your healthcare provider may recommend home remedies, lifestyle changes, nonsurgical treatments or surgery.

Types of jaw popping

There are two main ways your jaw can pop. It can happen when your mouth is open really wide (like when you yawn). This type of jaw clicking is normal and usually isn’t a cause for concern.

Jaw popping can also happen when you close your mouth, then open it again — like when you’re chewing or speaking. This type of jaw clicking occurs when the articular disk — the cartilage that cushions your jaw joint — slides in and out of place.

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Possible Causes

Why does my jaw pop?

Your jaw might click or pop if you have:

  • Bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching).
  • Habits like biting your fingernails or chewing gum excessively.
  • Arthritis.
  • Malocclusion (your teeth don’t fit together properly when you bite down).
  • Skeletal abnormalities in your jaw joint.
  • Muscle tension as a result of stress and anxiety.
  • Trauma from an accident or sports-related injury.
  • Biological parents or grandparents with TMJ-related issues.

Care and Treatment

How is jaw popping treated?

Healthcare providers treat a popping jaw a number of ways, including:

  • Lifestyle changes.
  • Home remedies.
  • Medication.
  • Nonsurgical treatments.
  • Surgery.

The treatment that’s right for you depends on the severity of your condition.

Lifestyle changes

You may be able to improve mild jaw popping by avoiding or limiting harmful habits, such as:

  • Biting your fingernails.
  • Chewing gum excessively.
  • Crunching on ice.
  • Eating lots of hard or chewy foods.

Home remedies

If lifestyle changes alone don’t ease jaw popping and pain, your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Applying ice packs to reduce swelling in your jaw joint.
  • Applying heat to soothe your jaw.
  • Wearing a mouth guard to protect your teeth from grinding and clenching. (You can buy one at a pharmacy or get a custom-made mouth guard from a dentist.)
  • Eating softer foods.
  • Taking medication to reduce inflammation, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Medication

Mild to moderate jaw clicking may require prescription medication, such as:

  • Antidepressants to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Muscle relaxants to ease tension in your jaw.

Nonsurgical treatments

You may need medical procedures to treat a popping jaw. Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • TMD-specific physical therapy. A physical therapist may use various techniques to treat jaw popping, including jaw exercises.
  • Trigger point massage. A healthcare provider will find trigger points (muscle knots) in your jaws and use massage to loosen and relax them.
  • Radio wave therapy. A healthcare provider uses radio waves to increase blood flow and stimulate your jaw joint.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). A TENS unit is a small machine with leads connected to electrodes (sticky pads). You place the electrodes directly on your skin. Once you turn the machine on, it sends small electrical impulses to your jaw to provide temporary pain relief. You can buy a TENS machine without a prescription. But it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before trying this type of therapy.
  • Restorative dentistry. If jaw popping is due to a misaligned bite, then you may need restorative dentistry treatments. These treatments may include crowns, bridges, dental implants and braces. Your dentist may also make a custom mouth guard that will help place your jaw in a more favorable position.

Surgical treatments

In severe cases, people may need surgery to correct a popping jaw. Surgical options may include:

  • Arthrocentesis. Also known as joint aspiration, arthrocentesis removes excess fluid in your jaw joint. A healthcare provider may also inject corticosteroids to relieve swelling.
  • Arthroscopy. During this procedure, a healthcare provider makes a small incision (cut) near your jaw. Then, they’ll insert a thin tube with a camera and light on the end. This allows them to diagnose and treat TMJ issues without making large incisions.
  • Arthroplasty. This surgery repairs, replaces, removes or repositions your jaw joint. To perform this procedure, your surgeon will need to make larger incisions.
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What are the possible risks of not treating jaw clicking?

Most of the time, jaw popping is a symptom of TMD. Left untreated, TMD can permanently damage your jaw, resulting in loss of cartilage and bone.

Can I prevent jaw popping?

There’s not a lot you can do to prevent jaw popping from happening in the first place — especially if it’s a result of skeletal abnormalities. But to reduce your risk of jaw clicking as a result of teeth grinding, try training yourself to keep your teeth slightly apart unless you’re eating, swallowing or speaking. Keeping your jaw relaxed and at rest may help you avoid issues like TMD.

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When To Call the Doctor

When should I see a healthcare provider?

If your jaw pops when you yawn, it’s probably not concerning unless you have pain. But you should schedule an appointment with a dentist or your primary care physician (PCP) if:

  • You have jaw pain or tenderness that doesn’t go away.
  • You can’t close your jaw completely.
  • Your jaw pops when chewing.

If your jaw popped out of place, you should seek medical treatment right away. Never try to pop your jaw back into place on your own.

Additional Common Questions

Will jaw popping go away?

The outlook is usually good for people with popping jaws. Since jaw clicking is often a symptom of TMD, it typically goes away with treatment.

Why does my jaw click on one side?

When your jaw clicks or pops, it’s usually a symptom of TMD. Disorders of your TMJ can occur on one or both sides of your face.

Why does my jaw pop but it doesn’t hurt?

If your jaw only pops when you yawn or open your mouth really wide, it’s probably due to temporary overextension of your jaw. This usually isn’t a cause for concern, especially if there’s no pain.

Even though discomfort is a common symptom of TMD, it’s important to know that some people with jaw popping never develop pain. If you have popping jaws when eating or speaking, you should see a healthcare provider — even if you don’t have pain.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Jaw popping — or jaw clicking — is a common symptom of TMD. Most of the time, it’s a temporary issue that goes away with treatment. If you have jaws that click, talk to your healthcare provider. Treating the underlying issue can help stop jaw popping and ease associated pain.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/01/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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