Does the following story sound familiar? “My jaw joint used to pop or click all the time. Then I heard a loud pop and from that day until now my jaw joint doesn’t make any sound, but I can’t open my mouth as wide. It’s been gradually improving but it’s been three years, and I still can’t stick more than two fingers width between my teeth.”
If this has happened to you, your TMJ joint is in a partially locked condition. The correct diagnosis is “Disc Displacement Without Reduction.” This is as if your jaw joint were like a door that was stopped partially open. Your TMJ joint is like a ball and socket with a disk that fits between the ball and the socket. If the TMJ disk slips on and off the ball of your joint you hear a click or pop as you open and close. When the disk gets stuck in front of the ball (like a door stop) then you can’t open all the way and it doesn’t make any sound because its movement is limited.
Should all people who hear a pop or click when they open and close their mouth seek treatment for their TMJ joint? The answer is generally no unless you are having frequent locking and pain in your joint. Specialized splints (dental orthotics) can be made to stabilize your jaw joint before it locks up permanently. After initial treatment, this splint may need to be worn only at night. Once the joint locks it can be very difficult and sometimes impossible to unlock.
Accommodation or a return to normal range of motion is possible to some extent with proper exercises and time. In rare circumstances surgery can rectify the problem. If you are symptomatic, early treatment is important to have a successful outcome.