ZocdocAnswersMy jaw has been locking, popping, and cracking. What's wrong with it?

Question

My jaw has been locking, popping, and cracking. What's wrong with it?

My jaw started locking, popping and cracking on occasions in the past year. Last month though it started to lock a lot more. I have made a doctors appointment, but it's not for another 2 weeks, and it's getting worse. For the last week my jaw on the right side has been locked, and no matter how I move my jaw it will not unlock. When I attempt to open my mouth any further I get a throbbing pain where my madible articulates with my temperal bone. I have also ben having some cases of tinnitus lately for no reason, and I know it is not from external noise. Today on the zygomatic bone right under the orbit of my eye I have been feeling some dull throbbing pain. It doesn't happen frequently, and doesn't last long, but it does worry me. Around a week ago I did wake up clenching my jaw really bad, and I am wondering if all of this could be just because I might be clenching my jaw at night, or if there may be something more serious wrong?

Answer

I'm sorry to hear about these disturbing symptoms that you are having! It sounds like you are most likely dealing with a case of temporo mandibular joint dysfunction (commonly called "TMJ"). The temporo mandibular joint is the joint that connects the jaw bone to the face. The joint is located right underneath the ear, which is where most of your symptoms seem to be localized. I do agree with you that seeing your primary care doctor, or a dentist, is the next best step. Most of the time TMJ is caused by inflammation and irritation inside the joint space. This is commonly a dental problem, triggered by grinding of the teeth, or misalignment of the teeth and the bite. As such, it is often treated with splints or other strategies to help with jaw alignment, and your dentist will be an expert on these kinds of treatments. At the same time, anti inflammatory medications may be needed to help reduce the pain, and physical therapy is often also prescribed to help get you back to functioning normally again. In the more severe cases, referral to a surgeon might be needed for a more invasive treatment. Start by keeping the appointment you have already set up with your doctor!

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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