They say I have TMJ Disorder?

About 5 years ago, quite suddenly, and on my way to work, my jaw made a very loud (at least to me) cracking sound. Scared the b’jesus outta me. Didn’t even hurt much (if at all), considering the intensity of the crack. Right after, I noticed a liquidly sound when I moved my jaw around. This sound/sensation would last for about 5 minutes, and then all would seem normal.

After this happened about 3 or 4 times in a week, i brought it up to several people… looking for some advice or insight into my affliction. Everyone told me it was TMJ disorder, which I had never heard of before. So I went to a dentist who supposedly specialized in the matter, but as soon as the examination began, it seemed as if something was amiss. It seemed like he was expecting the pop/crack to happen every time I opened my jaw. I tried to explain, that it only happens occasionally, and I experience almost no pain. He suggested I get a $700 bite guard, because it most likely caused by me grinding my teeth as I slept (which my wife assures me, that I most certainly do not do). Instantly, my SkeptoShield™ slammed into action. This seemed like a canned solution, and a quick way to make a buck. So I thanked him for his time, with my hand firmly protecting my wallet, and made a beeline for the door.

…Years pass…

Now here I am. At 32, I am still plagued by this annoying malady. Although now, I am starting to experience it more often during times of stress, and it’s starting to come with a side order of dull ache. Are my symptoms, as described, typical of TMJ Disorder? And, if so, can there be causes other than “gritttttting your teeth”?

TMJ disorders

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

From what I read at the linked page, it doesn’t appear that gritting your teeth would be much of a contributing factor, although it can’t be ruled out either.

Thanks for the links peoples. I guess out of all the possible causes listed, I could be clenching during sleep. I’m also working on my posture while at the computer.

A question I meant to include in the OP:

Has anyone with this problem gotten a bite guard, and noticed a big difference? And if so, what were your symptoms like before and after?

I only want to make sure I’m going about treating my symptoms the best possible way, with as little futile attempts as possible.

Well, I have had similar symptoms to what you describe since I was 10 or 12. Every now and then my jaw does a big >!POP!<. It doesn’t happen all the time. There’s no pain involved for me.

I’ve heard Dire Warnings from time to time. On the other hand, my jaw works fine, there’ s no pain, it’s not a constant thing, and it’s not getting worse. So I leave well enough alone. If it starts to cause me a problem, I’ll do something about it, otherwise I’m not worried.

But you say yours is starting to come with a “side order of ache”. Well, in that case, maybe you should have it seen to… This strikes me as an area where anecdote can have only very limited value. Maybe I haven’t had a problem in 30+ years, but we have no way to know if my jaw-popping and your jaw-popping are due to similar causes or not.

I will mention, though, that TMJ disorders frequently are not covered by insurance, or poorly covered, and there’s a certain percentage of quacks involved in diagnosing and treating it. Yes, it’s a legitimate disorder with real treatments, but for some reason it attracts flakes.

I’ve had right-side TMJ problems since I can remember, 30 years at least, with lots of unnerving clicking as you describe. Like you they caused me no actual problem for years, but about 10 years ago I started to get aches around that area. An orthodontist made up a splint (which I think is what you mean by a bite guard) which just stopped me closing my teeth together at night. It was just a piece of plastic that fitted over my front teeth, with a backwards extension to stop my teeth closing (I have an underbite).

It worked well and after a few weeks the aching almost completely stopped. I lost the splint after a few years and it was OK, but then gradually the ache started coming back so I got a new one just a few months ago. This time it was from the dentist, and it was smaller and cheaper than the last one.

*Note: I’m not a doctor. See below.

I have TMJD, and there’s varying degrees of it.

For me, it was nausea-inducing, knife-stuck-in-the-side-of-my-head pain that eventually caused me to not be able to eat solid foods or be able to open my mouth very wide. But I never had a locked jaw or noticed any major “popping.”

That is one “version”.

Others have the problem where the little bit of cartilidge between their temporal and mandibular bones (the T and M) slips out, causing the law to be locked open or closed. Some folks can wiggle around and get the disc back in place and go about their business with no pain. Others need medical attention to keep it from happening.

Another “version” is where alignment problems and/or muscle problems cause that disc to degenerate to the point where the TM joint is bone-on-bone. This usually results in painful surgery.

Lots of folks get what you describe. Like you said, it didn’t hurt for a long time, but the muscle might start to hurt or the disc might wear away and become painful.

TMJD or TMJ pain can be caused by genitically weak or wonky jaw muscles or joints, degenerative diseases, tooth misalignment (due to teeth just growing in wrong OR teeth being worn away by grinding), grinding (causing stress on the joint and/or muscle) or alot of times accidents - such as car accidents - that affect the muscles of the head, neck and shoulders.

The pain can feel like a toothache, an earache, a headache, a neckache or a migrane. Or just soreness in the jaw. It can be on one side or both.

For alot of people, a simple splint like Askance describes can do wonders. For me it was a total bite re-alignment through orthodontics (splints, palate stretchers, braces, retainers, more splints) which took about 3 years. The problem came back, on the other side, a few years later but I was able to “catch” it in time so that the re-alignment process only took about 2 years and was much less painful.

As you can see by what I’ve described, TMJD is a really widely-varied diagnosis and can mean many different things. Lots of people will tell you horror stories about their treatments. The surgery stories are the most horifying. But what it comes down to is very patient-specific diagnosis and treatments.

I’ve also been warned that there are few, if any, doctors that specialize solely in TMJD treatment. A doctor that specializes in “craniofacial dentistry” is a good place to start. I believe my doctor is a cosmetic dentist (he does alot of work in South America with kids who need dental reconstruction). From what I’ve read, TMJD is not something that’s covered in much detail in dental school and is more of a topic that doctors have to take upon themselves to research.

One other big thing about TMJD is that it is usually not covered under medical insurance. When I was being treated in 1998, I had one of the nation’s top medical insurance plans - Ford Motor Company’s plan. Denied my claim even though I was in dire pain and could barely open my mouth. I believe treatment is considered “cosmetic” to alot of plans. Sha! Most women I spoke to (about 70-75% of all TMJD sufferers are women) said their plans would not cover anything, not even surgery.

IANAD but from the looks of things you have a really treatable TMJD condition and shouldn’t worry too much about it getting worse as long as you do get some kind of treatment, keep up with it (wear your splint) and make sure you feel comfortable with the doctor that treats you and take note of wether or not the treatment works for you.

Two things your doctor should do every time you visit are use a triangular ruler/protractor thingy (see? IANAD!) to measure how wide you can open your mouth. If the width gets smaller, that’s bad. Also the doctor should stick his/her pinky in your ear and have you open wide. If this causes alot of pain, or if you can’t do it, or if the doctor feels something amiss with the jaw when you do this, it can indicate more problems.

*ok so this is not medical advice. All info that I am presenting is gathered from my own research online and in the library, as well as participation in TMJD patient support forums. I wrote an in-depth article on this subject in 2001 and interviewed several patients across the US as well as several doctors. All that, and I’ve had TMJD since 1998.

For more info Google “TMJ” and “bruxism” (grinding of the teeth)

If it causes you no pain, I wouldn’t worry about it. I have had the same thing for over 25 years, a loud popping or cracking noise (that others can hear quite clearly) when opening my jaw wide. It is intermittent and painless, and has never gotten worse, nor caused any problems, other than attracting attention.