JAW JOINT PROBLEMS
Does your jaw joint snap, crackle and pop?
If you hear noises coming from your jaw, there’s a good chance you have Temporomandibular Joint Disorder or TMD, which is a fancy way of saying “an unhealthy jaw joint.” Popping, clicking and grinding sounds in the jaw joint can be signs that your jaw’s shock-absorbing cartilage disk is dislocated or damaged. This can happen because of trauma or because of clenching, grinding or constant nail biting. TMD is so closely associated with clenching, grinding and headaches, that you could say it is another unhealthy result of stress.
When Popping Locks Up
When jaw noises go from happening occasionally to “all the time,” it’s a sign that the jaw disk is getting more dislocated and damaged. When this happens, you have a higher risk of experiencing intense headaches, jaw pain and locked jaw. That’s right. The disk can dislocate to the point that it “locks” the jaw closed. It makes for a great diet but a really bad day!
Lupe had the worst case of TMD that I had ever seen…
At her first appointment, she came in 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 was nearly locked shut. She could only open her mouth 9 millimeters, which is barely enough to slide a small straw through the teeth.
Lupe had been going through a stressful divorce, and with all her 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 jaw problem was until the morning she woke up and couldn’t open her mouth. Suddenly she was stuck eating everything through a straw and even that hurt.
By the time she arrived in my chair, Lupe had already seen a number of doctors. She couldn’t talk understandably. When I asked her what her treatment goal was, she painfully mumbled “I want to be able to open my mouth wide enough to bite into a hamburger!”
I don’t know if you can imagine the desperation and pain someone goes through when they lose use of their jaw and mouth. She was staring at me, her eyes full of pain, begging for hope. I had to swallow hard before I could speak clearly. Clearing my throat, I swore to Lupe and to myself that she’d get that burger. Not any burger either – she was gonna be able to take a bite out of the biggest burger she could find.
The jaw joint is incredibly complex and no healing journey is easy and straightforward. Healing the joint happens in steps and sometimes progress is two steps forward and one step back. Over the course of her treatment, we created a number of custom bite splints for Lupe that helped her face muscles relax and release the jaw joint. Her jaw slowly healed and started to open bit by bit.
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.
Lupe’s case was a fantastic success, but she had to endure weeks of misery because she hadn’t recognized the warning signs of 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 jaw is sending you warning signs, don’t ignore them until you wake up and can’t open your mouth. Get help today!