Does your TMJ (jaw joint) snap, crackle and pop?
If you hear noises coming from your jaw, you may have Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder or “TMD,” which is a fancy way of saying “an unhealthy jaw joint.” In fact, when we hear popping, clicking and grinding sounds in our jaw joint, our body is trying to warn us. These noises can mean that your jaw’s shock-absorbing cartilage disk is either dislocated or damaged.
The jaw joint gets damaged or dislocated because of trauma or because of things like clenching, grinding or constant nail biting. Without a doubt, TMD is so closely associated with clenching, grinding and headaches, that you could call it another unhealthy result of stress. Read more…
When TMJ Popping turns into Locked Jaw
When TMJ noises go from happening occasionally to “all the time”, the body is telling us that the jaw disk is getting more dislocated and damaged. More frequent noises also warn us that we’re at higher risk for both intense headaches and jaw pain as well as locked jaw. Yes, you heard correctly – Locked Jaw! The TMJ disk sometimes actually dislocates to the point that it “locks” the jaw closed. A locked jaw makes for a great diet AND a really bad day!
Lupe had the worst case of TMJ / TMD that I had ever seen…
At her first appointment, she arrived with pain radiating so intensely from her jaw joint down her neck that she teared up when anything brushed her skin. Even worse, her jaw could barely open. When she tried to open her mouth, it only opened 19 millimeters – Barely enough to slide a small straw through the teeth.
Lupe had been going through a stressful divorce. Amidst all the stress, she hadn’t noticed her jaw joint sending her warning signs that things weren’t healthy. She’d ignored the popping, the clicking and the soreness.
Lupe didn’t realize how serious her TMJ problem was until the morning she woke up and couldn’t open her mouth. In that moment, she was suddenly stuck eating everything through a straw. She was also in constant excruciating pain.
By the time she arrived in my chair, Lupe had already seen a number of doctors.
Many of them thought she was simply just seeking pain killers. When she arrived at my office, she couldn’t even talk understandably. During her exam, I asked her what her treatment goal was and she painfully mumbled “I want to be able to open my mouth wide enough to bite into a hamburger again!”
I don’t know if you can imagine the desperation and pain someone goes through when they can’t open their mouth anymore. Lupe was staring at me, her eyes full of pain, begging for hope. That day I swore to Lupe and to myself that she’d eat that burger. And not only was she going to be able to eat a hamburger again, but it was going to be the biggest burger she could find. We weren’t going to settle for junior burgers!
Over the course of Lupe’s treatment, we created a number of custom bite splints for her that helped her face muscles relax and release the jaw joint. Her jaw slowly healed and started to open bit by bit. Because the jaw joint (TMJ) is incredibly complex, no healing journey is simple or straightforward. In fact, the healing process often happens in steps and sometimes progress goes two steps forward and one step back.
It was a crazy, emotional day when her jaw disk finally slid back into place and her mouth opened all the way up.
To say Lupe was ecstatic, would be a complete understatement. Her full smile beamed out for the first time in a long time as she squealed, “Hamburgers for lunch today, Doc!!!” There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
In conclusion, Lupe’s case was a fantastic success. However, she had to endure weeks of misery because she hadn’t recognized the warning signs of TMJ disorders (TMD).
Warning signs of TMD and jaw problems include any of the following:
- Frequent loud popping
- Jaw pain
- Sore face muscles
- Weird grinding noises when you move your jaw
- Periodic freezing up of the jaw joint.
If your TMJ is sending you warning signs, don’t ignore them until you wake up and can’t open your mouth. Get help today!