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Q: Snap, crack pop — is that my jaw?

Posted January 16, 2013 in Advice Column, Winterset

A: A popping noise when you open and close your mouth is one of the most recognized signs of temporomandibular disorders (TMD). TMD describes a variety of conditions that affect the muscles of the jaw, the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), and the nerves associated with chronic facial pain. Symptoms may occur on either one or both sides of the face.

A common cause of pain associated with your jaw is bruxism. Bruxism is clenching or grinding your teeth together. You may be unaware of this happening and it may even occur while you are sleeping. These excessive habits stress the jaw muscles and lead to discomfort such as headaches or neck pain. Other symptoms can include a sore jaw, pain when you chew or yawn, clicking when opening and closing your mouth, frequently having your jaw lock open or a chronic earache.

Resting the jaw coupled with NSAID pain relievers and moist heat can treat the majority of cases. In more severe cases, appliance therapy such as a bite guard may be used. Physical therapy and stronger medications might also be considered. As a last resort, surgical intervention may be needed.

While not all jaw sounds necessarily point to TMD, they can be an early warning sign and should be checked by your dentist. Your dentist can then help you plan the appropriate treatment based on your situation.

Information provided by Dr. Christopher W. Blanchard, Blanchard Family Dentistry, 820 West Summit St., 462-4474

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