Dr. Greg Jorgensen
(505) 891-9440
1401 Barbara Loop SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124

The Jorgensen Orthodontics Blog

Can Orthodontic Treatment Stop My Jaw from Popping and Clicking?

Posted by Dr. Jorgensen on June 10th, 2011

Every May our office sees an increase in the number of phone calls from patients worried because their jaws have begun to pop or click. They want to be seen by the orthodontist assuming this is related to their bite. What is the real relationship between the TMJ and orthodontics?

Following a landmark lawsuit in 1987 where a Michigan patient received a legal judgment against her orthodontist for giving her “TMJ,” hundreds of studies and millions of dollars have been spent by the scientific community to find if there really is a relationship between orthodontic treatment and the health of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Obviously this would be an important finding for doctors and patients alike. These studies have examined the different types of bad bite as well as the various approaches to treatment to show any cause and effect relationships.

Time and time again scientific studies have supported the conclusion that orthodontics neither causes nor cures TMJ disorders. Except for two exceptions, malocclusion in general cannot be linked to a higher prevalence of joint problems. The two exceptions are a posterior cross bite that causes the jaw to shift to one side upon closure, and an anterior open bite where all the biting force is on the back teeth only and the front teeth do not touch at all. Scientific studies have been unable to uncover any links between the use of headgear, extractions, rubber bands, oral surgery, or any other treatments and TMJ problems.

There are many conditions that can cause pain in the area of the TMJ that are not related to the teeth at all. Some are serious like degenerative arthritis and cancer. Others are related to functional habits (like clenching and grinding). While cross bites and open bites may be linked to joint problems, not all bad bites result in TMJ pain. Most patients who come into an orthodontic office have “bad bites,” and yet very few report TMJ pain. On the other hand, many patients who report severe TMJ pain often have ideal bites. This simple observation supports the scientific studies that have separated the fields of TMJ and orthodontics. If all bad bites had TMJ symptoms and all great bites never had any pain, a direct relationship would be defendable.

Jaw joint issues can involve muscles, ligaments, tendons, and/or the cartilages associated with the joints. Many times these problems are due to the anatomy of the patient’s joints. Some folks’ joints just make noises or move roughly because of their shape and size. It is not uncommon for patients’ ankles to pop when they stand up, but rarely do they seek treatment for that noise. A pop in the jaw joint however is much more noticeable because it occurs close to the ear where the patient can hear it.

So what do we know about TMJ noises and what causes them? First of all, the jaw joints are like many other joints in the body. There are two bones that come together with a piece of padding (a disc made of cartilage) between them. The disc is held between the bones by a ligament from behind and a muscle from the front. As the joint functions, the muscle pulls on the disc to keep it centered between the two bones. When it works perfectly, it functions almost silently.

If the ligament is loose so that it doesn’t hold the disc in the right place however, the disc travels a little too far upon opening and then suddenly pop back into place when the ligament finally applies enough tension. If the muscle pulls too hard on the front of the disc, it can also hold it too far forward until the ligament ultimately pulls it back into place. Ligaments can be naturally loose, get loose during childbirth (when all the ligaments in the body relax), or become damaged by trauma. The muscles pull too much if they have been busy chewing (gum, bagels, etc.), clenching, or grinding. Clenching or grinding can actually cause spasms in the chewing muscles which can be painful as well as pull the disc forward.

Nearly half of American women report they have had a pop or a click in their jaws while about one-fourth of the men report the same. While some popping may not be related to an identifiable event, many patients know exactly what sets it off. Studies have indicated that more than 50% of TMJ symptoms are attributable to stress alone. That helps explain the rise in calls we get during the last two weeks of the school year. Almost without fail our patients identify that their symptoms arrived about the same time as their finals and associated end-of-year projects. While there definitely are TMJ conditions that warrant treatment, most popping and clicking is not serious. Sometimes just recognizing the relationship between these noises and their stress level is all that is needed to get a patient on the road to recovery.

NOTE: The author, Dr. Greg Jorgensen, is a board-certified orthodontist who is in the private practice of orthodontics in Rio Rancho, New Mexico (a suburb on the westside of Albuquerque). He was trained at BYU, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Iowa in the United States. Dr. Jorgensen’s 25 years of specialty practice and 10,000 finished cases qualify him an expert in two-phase treatment, extraction and non-extraction therapy, functional orthodontics, clear aligners (Invisalign), and multiple bracket systems (including conventional braces, Damon and other self-ligating brackets, Suresmile, and lingual braces). This blog for informational purposes only and is designed to help consumers understand currently accepted orthodontic concepts. It is not a venue for debating alternative treatment theories. Dr. Jorgensen is licensed to diagnose and treat patients only in the state of New Mexico. He cannot diagnose cases described in comments nor can he select treatment plans for readers. Because he has over 25,000 readers each month, it is impossible for him respond to all questions. Please read all of the comments associated with each article as most of the questions he receives each week have been asked and answered previously. The opinions expressed here are protected by copyright laws and can only be used with written permission from the author.

66 comments so far in response to “Can Orthodontic Treatment Stop My Jaw from Popping and Clicking?”

  1. Nigel says:

    Hi Dr.Jorgensen, i want to ask a question about my jaw. 3 years ago, suddenly the movement of my mouth is restricted due to something is wrong with my jaw. When i open my mouth, it feels like something stuck on the left side so i cannot open my mouth widely as usual. But suddenly it recovered by itself. And now it happens to me again, sometimes when i am chewing foods, my left jaw will hurt and its been like this for around 10 days.

    Just for extra information, i never been in any accident or being hit on the jaw.

    • It sounds like you are getting muscle spasms in the muscles (pterygoids) that are associated with your TMJ disks. When they spasm and shorten, they can induce joint sounds and even locking. This is an area that is outside of the specialty of orthodontics. I would recommend looking for an oral surgeon who knows a lot about the joints.

  2. Catharina says:

    Dr. Jorgensen
    My jaw have been popping on the right side since I was 16 and never stopped and I’m 23 now. I can’t open my mouth to wide because it feels like it is to tight (like someone is forcing my mouth closed). My jaw hurts so much that it gives me migraines. When I’m eating my jaw popping is so loud that everybody can hear it. Winter is the worst for me. What do you think can I do to fix the pain and loud popping.

    • Braces can’t fix a pop or click. Half of American women have a pop or click when they open wide. Usually treatment is not require. If you are in pain however, I would recommend being seen by an oral surgeon who has experience with joint disorders.

  3. Dinesh says:

    Hello Dr. Jorgensen,
    I am experiencing click sound on left side of my ear since last 2 weeks which is not frequent with no pain at all, muscle stiffness present, xray report confirms mild anterior subluxation, according to Dental surgeon, i have cross-bite, a tooth on each molar missing, never put braces on my teeth, jaw deviates zigzag, moves to right and comes back to correct position and this happens only when i m closing the mouth, and according to Dr. disk is out of place. Will splint help me solve my issue or i need to go through surgery with both maxillofacial and orthodontist involved???

    • A splint may or may not help. Joint noises can be found on about 50% of female patients whether or not they have orthodontic problems. If you are not in pain, I would not recommend surgery of any kind as that will not guarantee you’ll stop clicking. You may want to try a splint as that is non-destructive.

      • mamta patel says:

        sir i have disk displacement problem as per my MRI report. i want to know my answer in a very simple word as i am very much tired thinking about it. will the disk which is displacement come back to its place again by itself ever in my lifetime or its answer is clearly NO. i have left jaw locking problem since i was 20 years old now im running in 25.

        kindly tell me one more thing sir, is clicking is really serious. i have heard that it is still under research which treatment is to be done to cure it. why it is running late. im very much disappointed and sometimes feeling like depression

        • Although everyone is different, most disk displacements do NOT resolve on their own. About 50% of American females and 25% males report they have a jaw pop or click. If you are in pain, I would recommend being seen by an oral surgeon with experience in temporomandibular disorders (“TMJ”)

  4. richard boychuk says:

    I had a wisdom tooth that wouldnt come out. the young dentist was literaly hanging off my jaw trying to extract it. He couldnt get it so he had to cut and drill it out. About a year later I was chewing gum on a plane and then suddenly boom it started popping and hasnt got better. Is it possable that my joint was weakened by the dentist?

  5. Karen says:

    Hi Dr Jorgensen,
    2 years ago I had my upper right molar extracted (tooth 3 I think) due to an infected root canal. I had a bone graph done and a zirconia implant post put in in 3 months ago. Since then, my teeth on that side have shifted slightly and my dentist recommended I see an orthodontist to fix the gaps before placing the crown. I just saw an orthodontist and he said I need braces for 12 months to shift the teeth back. I also have a slight cross bite and my upper and the upper and lower front teeth don’t meet. When I try to bite down straight, my right side teeth are totally off. So would braces fix this crossbite and re align my bite? I clench and grind my teeth at night causing some jaw discomfort on that right side too. I’m assuming it has to do with my crossbite and some stress? I hate to get braces because I have very straight teeth other then this small crossbite and the shift in my teeth on my right side, Just wanted a second opinion. Thanks!

    • What you have experienced is common and you sound like a good candidate for orthodontics. I would get a consultation soon as you want to get thing going and done so the crown can be placed on your new implant.

  6. Alfred john says:

    My lower jawbone is way too forward…so if I am seeking a surgery how much it will cost?

    • It is impossible to quote fees on a blog, but even if I could, there are just too many variables to be able to do it accurately. For example, insurance coverage or not? One jaw or two? Part of the country? The best way to find out is to get a personal quote from an oral surgeon in your area.

  7. Ericah Joy Limbo says:

    Hi Dr. Jorgensen,

    I haven’t experienced jaw locking totally yet but almost. i feel so hard on my jaw sometimes that if dont take care it will lead to lock up. do i need to wear splint and treatment also? thank you.

    • Joint noises rarely progress to painful TMD problems. If you are having issues however, you need to see someone local to have your jaw checked. I’d recommend an oral surgeon with joint training and experience.

  8. Tristan says:

    Had tmj issues 10 years ago. No pain, only difficulty swallowing, breathing, some popping. I received orthodontic treatment and all symptoms subsided. I did not follow post retainer directions like I was supposed to. Noticed jaw pain a couple months back and I seemed to want to keep my teeth completely apart. Pain subsided completely but now the difficulties in swallowing etc.. Thoughts?

    • As you probably read in my article, the current research indicates that orthodontic treatment neither causes nor fixes joint problems. I have no answer at all on what could be causing your swallowing issues. That is beyond the scope of the orthodontic specialty. I would recommend that you consult with a physician (ear, nose, and throat). Good luck!

  9. Lily says:

    My jaw hurts I can’t open it wide and its hard for my front teeth to touch my bottom teeth and when I try it hirts what should I do?

  10. Lisa says:


    My jaw doesn’t just pop like these other users. I’m 24 and have experienced 3 jaw dislocations in my life– where I’ve needed hospitalization to have my jaw realigned. During these, my jaw has popped and locked open. Unable to shut my mouth. The pain is excruciating and now I feel jaw pain everyday.

    What can be done? How does surgery work? The one mouth guard I had did not help. My wisdom teeth are out.

    • It sounds like you must have some problems with the ligaments or tendons associated with your jaws. That area falls under the expertise of an oral surgeon or orthopedic surgeon. Braces cannot fix what you are experiencing.

Leave a Comment

Back to Top

Your account login
Your rewards
Schedule an appointment with our talented orthodontist online