One of the most common complaints from patients is when there is a clicking or popping sound upon opening the mouth, yawning or chewing.
The clicking sound may or may not be accompanied by pain. When any joint in the body makes a noise with movement, it is an indication of a misalignment and dysfunction within that joint. Within the TMJ there is fibrous tissue between the skull and the mandible (jaw). This is typical in some way to the meniscus within a knee.
In normal anatomy, as the mouth opens, the jaw moves forward from its joint position. The disc also moves forward and remains between the two bones in a closed and open position.
When there is a soft tissue injury to the ligaments that support the disc, the disc can be dislocated from its normal position. Therefore, when the mouth is fully closed, the disc is not in its proper position, but rather in a position forward of its neutral location. When opening the mouth, moving the jaw forward, the clicking and popping sounds may be an indication that the disc is attempting to reposition to a normal status.
Typically, patients often present stating that there was once a clicking sound within their joints and now the clicking has stopped. It is believed then, that the joint has improved. On the contrary, when joints no longer click, it is a sign that the disc is locked out of place. Further soft tissue damage can then continue which can include chronic inflammation and tissue breakdown within the joint. When left untreated or not treated properly, the bone can begin to break down in the form of degenerative arthritis. Therefore, clicking joints and joints that have previously clicked are a sign of dysfunction and should be addressed appropriately.