It’s Not like Cracking Your Knuckles

Many people think that jaw popping or clicking is not a serious concern because they compare it with cracking their knuckles, but the two mechanisms are completely different. In cracking your knuckles, the sound comes from a couple of different effects. First, the gasses in solution in the fluid around your cartilage come out of solution when you expand the jaw joint. Second, the capsule in the jaw joint reaches the limit of its expansion, which causes a sound as well.

But the jaw joint is structured differently than the joints in your fingers. In your finger joints, the cartilage is firmly anchored between the two bones. In the jaw joint, the cartilage is less firmly anchored because it needs to be able to move flexibly with all the different directions of motion demanded of this joint. This means that the cartilage disk between the temporal bone and the mandible can slide out of place, and this displacement is what causes the popping or clicking (though it occurs when the disk slips back into place, rather than when it comes out).

The Impact of Jaw Popping

The cartilage disk in your jaw joint is designed to be tough so that it can cushion the motions of your jaw and prevent the bones from rubbing against one another.

When the disk is displaced, though, the pressure has to be borne by tissues less suited to the task, the ligaments that are supposed to hold the disk in place. When this occurs, the ligaments suffer damage, often resulting in pain and swelling.

A displaced disk may make it hard for you to open or close your jaw, depending on the exact type of displacement.

But the ligaments can’t adequately cushion the bones, so this situation results in bone wear, which is not only painful, it leads to destruction of the bones, which may make the joint completely nonfunctional.

Disc Displacement Is Not TMJ

Sometimes doctors will want to tell you that disc displacement is the only definition of TMJ. However, TMJ is defined by a complex set of symptoms, many of which go with displaced disks, but not all. The involvement of muscles and nerves in the jaw joint system are responsible for some of the symptoms of TMJ, and overlap with conditions like fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) point to a much more complex cause for TMJ.

Fortunately, no matter the cause of your TMJ, TMJ treatment seems to help reduce or eliminate symptoms. To learn how TMJ treatment can help your symptoms, please call (201) 343-4044 or email the River Edge Center for TMJ, Sleep Apnea, & Reconstructive Dentistry.