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.

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

  1. Katy says:

    Hi,OK so I’m getting braces next week and I’m wondering if it would fix my jaw popping because I hate it how every morning it just pops but I am hoping that braces could fix my jaw popping…thanks for the article

    • Braces will NOT fix your jaw popping. Sorry

    • Somers B Matthews says:

      Braces fixed my TMJ problems in one night, including the jaw popping. It depends on what is causing TMJ problems. Wear a mouth guard and see if you have to force your jaw back into alignment with your misaligned teeth and/or bite after a night of wearing it. If you do, then your teeth are putting unnatural stress on your TMJ, which makes it pop in the morning. If your ortho or dentist says you don’t have a bite problem then the braces won’t help your TMJ. I don’t have to wear a mouth guard at night anymore. Although the braces do hurt the teeth, knowing that that pain will go away over time is comforting. Don’t wait until the annoying popping in the morning turns into dizziness, nausea, ringing in the ears, and severe muscle pain in the face, neck, and around the ears. It took until I’m 32 for this madness to happen. I’ve had an overbite my whole life.

      • Thank you for sharing your experience Somers. There are lots of things that affect the joints and many different approaches have been reported to give relief. I am glad that a mouth guard help you so quickly. When I have a patient who has joint or facial pain, I refer them to one of many dentists in my area who have experience using splints (mouth guards) to get them out of pain and diagnose if braces are needed. Once the patients are comfortable, we then proceed with braces if there are other reasons for orthodontic treatment. My advice is that if you are in pain, address that before braces as orthodontic treatment alone may or may not give you relief.

  2. Lilly says:

    My jaw keeps clicking and really really hurts and I went to my dentist and they said it was wired wrong and I would have to have braces. What is the reason of braces when this is happening???

    • As I explained in my article, there are several factors that lead to popping and clicking of the joints. In my experience joint noises may or may not be affected by orthodontic treatment. I would not recommend braces if your only complaint is the clicking. I can’t guarantee that braces will fix that.

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