Is Cracking Jaw Dangerous?

Sometimes our jaws crack when we chew or yawn. Any reason to worry? How it comes to cracking and when medical help is appropriate

Some people's jaws suddenly crack when, for example, they chew their food. Sometimes it cracks with the next chewing motion or the next but one, then the annoying noise is gone again. Or the jaw makes a cracking sound when you yawn. Any reason to worry?

"If the jaw cracks, like the knee or the big toe, you don't have to worry at all. That is completely normal," says Professor Marc Schmitter, Director of the Polyclinic for Dental Prosthetics at the University Hospital of Würzburg. The expert also points out that the clicking noise in the jaw compared to the knee is usually only louder for you because the jaw is right next to your ear. Treatment is not necessary. Dentist dr. Horst Kares from Saarbrücken adds: "It happens very often that the jaw cracks when yawning or chewing. Around a third of the population has noises in their jaw joints.

Professor Marc Schmitter is the director of the Polyclinic for Dental Prosthetics in the Center for Dental Health at the University Hospital of Würzburg

© W & B / private

A visit to the dentist is advisable if, in addition to the cracking of the jaw, there are symptoms such as pain in the jaw area, restricted movement of the lower jaw, swelling or psychosocial impairments. "Psychosocial impairment means, for example, that people no longer dare to go to a restaurant because even the guests at the next table can hear the cracking of their jaws loudly while they are eating," explains Schmitter. In such cases, there is a possibility that there is a malfunction in the tooth and jaw area - a so-called craniomandibular dysfunction (CMD).

What does the cracking cause?

Like other joints in our body, the temporomandibular joint is very complex and has many possibilities of movement. For example, when the mouth is opened and the lower jaw moves, the joint head changes its position in the joint pit. The joint head, which is separated from the joint pit by a cartilage disc - the so-called disc - normally slides forward together with the disc when it is opened. However, it can also happen that it slips forward without a joint head. The latter then follows with a delay and the slipping onto the cartilage disc finally causes a cracking. "Cracking noises are usually caused by a displacement of the disc. The cartilage disc can slip due to a variety of factors, but this is usually relatively harmless," says Kares.

The jaw can sometimes make a different noise if the disc has slipped completely: "If there is a crunch in the jaw joint, we speak of rubbing noises," says Kares. In this case, due to the displacement of the disc, the joint head rubs in the joint pit - i.e. bone on bone. According to dentist Kares, this sound also occurs in many people and there is usually nothing to worry about as long as the rubbing noises are not accompanied by pain.

Dr. Horst Kares is a dentist in Saarbrücken

© W & B / private

Possible trigger: teeth grinding or clenching

In addition to genetic factors, a previous accident or dentures, teeth grinding can be a trigger for repeated jaw cracking. "The cartilage disc can slip while sleeping if you grind or press your teeth," says Schmitter. Then, when the mouth is opened for the first time, the cartilage disk will slide back to its original position, causing a clicking sound.

If the jaw cracks frequently or causes rubbing noises, you should observe whether they grind or press their teeth at night or possibly during the day. Bruxism, the technical term for teeth grinding, occurs frequently in the population. Women between the ages of 30 and 45 in particular grind their teeth when they sleep. This can be noticeable the next morning, for example, through tense or hardened jaw muscles. Often a splint helps with grinding teeth at night (sleep bruxism) to relieve the jaw joint. Anyone who grits their teeth several times during the day due to stress, for example (awake bruxism), should sharpen their body awareness. "The teeth should only touch when swallowing or eating," says Kares. Otherwise, the motto is: lips shut, teeth apart.

However, it is not only because of the increased likelihood of teeth grinding that the jaw cracks more frequently in women than in men. Another cause in women can be weak connective tissue. "The disc is fixed in the connective tissue. And these ligaments - like the ligament apparatus in women in general - are weaker than in men. The disc can slip more easily," says Schmitter.