Jaw Clicking

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Jaw clicking can be a symptom of several conditions that affect your jaw joints, or temporomandibular joints (TMJ). These conditions, called temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), can be caused by issues with the joint or muscles around it. Sometimes jaw clicking resolves on its own, without treatment. In the most severe cases, surgery might be required.

This article discusses jaw clicking—what this symptom feels like, other symptoms that often occur with it, and diagnosis and treatment of conditions that can cause this symptom.

Close up of a dentist examining in a man's mouth.

Eugenio Marongiu / Getty Images

Symptoms of Jaw Clicking

The main symptom of a clicking jaw is a popping sensation at your TMJ when you open or close your mouth. These joints can be felt just below the end of your cheekbones, in front of your ears. You might also hear an audible "click" sound with this popping.

Other symptoms often occur with jaw clicking, depending on the underlying cause. These can include:

  • Pain in your jaw or the muscles around your TMJ
  • Pain spreading to your neck or face
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased ability to open or close your jaw
  • Altered bite (how your upper and lower teeth fit together)
  • Tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
  • Hearing loss
  • Dizziness
  • Locking of your jaw (getting stuck in one position)
  • Grinding sensation in your jaw

Who Is Affected by TMDs?

Around 11 million to 12 million people in the United States have had temporomandibular pain. TMDs most commonly affect women aged 35 to 44 years.

What Causes Jaw Clicking?

There are three main groups of temporomandibular joint disorders. Conditions in each of these groups can cause jaw clicking, as follows:

  • Joint disorders: Examples include degenerative joint disease (arthritis), disc disorders (cartilage between bones in the joint moves out of place), and joint pain
  • Disorders that affect the chewing muscles: This includes increased pain in a specific muscle when pressed on and pain that spreads from its origin (referred pain)
  • Headaches occurring with a TMD


Osteoarthritis (OA) in the jaw occurs over time. With this condition, joints in the jaw undergo degenerative changes—breakdown of bone, cartilage, ligaments (connecting bone to bone), muscles, and the lining of the joint.

OA in the jaw can be caused by the following:

  • Previous injury to the joint
  • Prolonged inflammation
  • Repeated pressure through the jaw joints
  • Malalignment of the top and bottom teeth

Osteoarthritis typically affects one side of the jaw at a time.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that can cause inflammation in joints throughout the body, including the jaw. Unlike OA, rheumatoid arthritis typically affects both jaw joints simultaneously. Clicking is a common symptom of RA in the jaw.

Around 20% to 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis will have TMJ involvement.

Disc Disorders

The upper jaw bone and skull form the temporomandibular joints. Between the bones is a piece of cartilage called a disc. Jaw clicking occurs in the majority of people with disc disorders.

Disc disorders are caused by disc displacement (disc moves out of place) or structural changes (typically from degeneration or breakdown of the disc over time).

Muscle Disorders

Jaw clicking can occur from disorders that affect the muscles used for chewing. Examples include:

  • Orofacial myofunctional disorders (abnormal movements in the face and mouth)
  • Oral dyskinesia (involuntary movements of the mouth that occur with certain neurological conditions)
  • Bruxism (grinding or clenching of teeth)
  • Functional movement disorders

Clicking Without Pain

Jaw clicking often occurs without pain and can even be normal. In these cases, treatment is not necessary.

How Is Jaw Clicking Treated?

Treatment for jaw clicking depends on the underlying cause. Sometimes, temporomandibular joint issues resolve on their own without treatment.

Jaw conditions that cause clicking are often temporary and can be treated with home remedies, such as:

  • Eating a diet of soft foods
  • Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen)
  • Using hot or cold packs
  • Practicing gentle exercises
  • Avoiding aggravating behaviors (clenching your jaw, chewing gum, biting nails)

Physical therapy is often used to treat jaw-clicking disorders. Your therapist will evaluate your jaw and prescribe specific exercises based on the underlying issue. Modalities such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation can also reduce pain and inflammation.

Dentists and other healthcare providers also provide a variety of treatments for TMDs. These can include:

  • Fabrication of dental appliances (such as a mouth guard)
  • Prescription medications
  • Dental procedures to realign the teeth
  • Injection of steroid medications or Botox
  • Surgery to repair damage at the TMJ
  • Replacement of part or all of the jaw joint

Healthcare providers that can typically help with diagnosis and treatment of joint pain include dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, oral medicine/orofacial pain specialists, and physical therapists.

How Is Jaw Clicking Diagnosed?

Jaw clicking can be felt by placing fingers on the jaw joints during movement. In some cases, it can also be heard.

There are no specific tests for diagnosing jaw clicking. TMDs are diagnosed by physical exam—usually by a dentist or physical therapist.

Imaging, such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can provide pictures of the bones and soft tissues to assess for damage to these structures.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you don't have pain with your jaw clicking, you likely don't need treatment. If you have pain, difficulty moving your jaw, or if it's locking in one position, see your healthcare provider.


Jaw clicking is common and can be normal. However, jaw clicking accompanied by pain or difficulty moving your jaw can be a symptom of a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). These conditions are characterized by inflammation or damage to the joint's bones, ligaments, muscles, or cartilage (disc).

There are no specific tests to diagnose TMDs. These conditions are diagnosed with a physical examination by a healthcare provider. Imaging can provide additional information about joint damage that has occurred. Treatment often includes home remedies, physical therapy, and other interventions, such as mouth appliances, prescription medications, or, rarely, surgery.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.