Clicking when you eat? Might be a problem with your jaw joints

'CLICK-pop-click' is not the tune that most people want to eat to but some have to put up with from their noisy jaw joints.

Problem jaw joints have been known to click so loudly that they have distracted other diners.

Inside your jaw joint the jawbone is shaped somewhat like a clenched fist with a squashed knob of bone at the crest and a slender piece of bone coming down from it.

Seated on this knobbly bone is a soft disc that cushions the bone between your skull. The disc is not hard like the knuckle cartilage in a chicken leg; it is much softer as its made out of collagen – it feels more like cooked pasta.

The disc is connected on to the jaw bone by muscles and ligaments, like the springs that secure a trampoline. In health when we open and close our mouth, the squidgy disc slides forward and back on the jawbone.

See also: ORAL MEDICINE : TMJ disorder symptoms & therapy

The easiest way to visualise this is if you make a clenched fist and then rotate it in the palm of your other open hand.

The clicking is when the disc has slipped too far off the jawbone in any direction. The muscles and ligaments are constantly trying to tug the disc back into its correct position. It's the snap of the strayed disc back on to the bone that you hear as a click or pop.

If you want to see it better and aren't squeamish about anatomy there are some great videos on YouTube that show the discs clicking on and off the bone. Many clicks are nothing to worry about and don't need any treatment.

In certain circumstances the disc can become trapped in front of your jaw bone. This is when people can't close their mouth and say that they have lockjaw.

This is often a daunting and painful experience for someone. Gentle jaw movements can sometimes allow space for the disc to slip back on to the jaw itself, while other times the jaw needs to be manipulated by a dentist or doctor to allow the disc to seat and the mouth to close.

With decades of trauma the disc can even wear out completely, leaving the jawbone scraping the skull bone. There are many reasons that the jaw joint disc functions poorly.

A diagnosis of the state of your jaw joint will allow different treatments to be discussed to help stabilise the disc and promote comfort and silence.

Lucy Stock


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