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Snap, Crackle, Pop: Is That Your Jaw?


Clicking or popping could mean trouble, that is if it comes from your jaw. Joint sound is one of the most recognized signs of temporomandibular disorders, commonly referred to as TMD. While not all jaw sounds necessarily point to TMD, it could be an early sign and always should be checked out by your dentist, urges the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), an organization for general dentists dedicated to continuing education.


The temporomandibular joints are the points at which the lower jaw (the mandible) attaches to the skull. They are among the most complex joints in the human anatomy. If you place your fingers on the sides of your face, just in front of your ears, and open and close your mouth, you can feel the movement of the mandible in the temporomandibular joints.


Researchers have discovered that sound can be a good tool when diagnosing TMD. Sounds from subjects with TMD had a larger amplitude than sounds fromsubjects without the disorder.


"Joint sound for some people is normal, but it could still mean trouble," says AGD spokesperson Julie Ann Barna, DMD. "The difference between healthy jaw movement and TMD is said to be only one millimeter."


Dr. Barna says that if TMD is diagnosed, a team approach to therapy by a dentist and physical therapist leads to effective treatment. She advises that patients should contact their dentist as soon as they notice any new joint sound or discomfort in the mouth. "It may be nothing," she says. "But it's better to be safe than sorry."


Updated: November 2008