Recipe for a popping jaw
“It doesn’t hurt or anything. It just makes a popping sound when I’m chewing. My mom is really grossed out by it.”
When I do an exam I find that their jaw has a very noticeable clicking when they open. Sometimes it’s both sides, but more often it seems like it’s only on one side.
Then, I ask the most important question that can be asked about a painless jaw pop.
“Do you chew gum?”
9 times out of 10 I get the sheepish look. Busted.
“Yes. I chew gum.”
“How often. Every once in awhile?”
“Maybe a little more than that.”
In fact, for some gum chewers it’s most of the time. If I were to generalize about who are my most common gum chewers/jaw poppers I would have to say that they’re probably female and in their mid 20’s. Sometimes a little older. And they probably needed a paper towel to throw their gum out before we cleaned their teeth. Luckily for them, they don’t have pain associated with the jaw pop. But as they age, that can change.
I know what you’re thinking. I’ve written about the magic of chewing sugarless gum for reducing tooth decay. It’s true. But if you go back and read closely I recommend 5 minutes or so. Not longer than it takes for the flavor to run out, anyhow.
Chronic gum chewers are working out their chewing muscles and jaw joints. A lot. These are muscles that don’t need the extra workout, though. Since we have to eat to survive, our regular day to day chewing, talking (or yelling, if you have small children) and living are plenty of exercise. Overuse of the muscles of mastication (chewing muscles) and jaw joints creates greater risk for a popping jaw, headaches and even chronic pain of the neck.
Have your knees ever popped when you run up the stair? I know mine do. That popping is a similar thing that goes on in your popping jaw joint. It’s a disk of cartilege and connective tissue that’s slipping between two bone surfaces. I know that’s gross sounding, but it’s exactly what’s happening.
Now, did your knees do that when you were a little kid? Probably not. But as we age and, in some cases gain weight, we continue to put more and more stress on our knees. We’re overusing them. So these joints react. Sometimes they pop when they’re used. And sometimes they can become painful and need treatment.
Gum chewing as a habit if a near perfect storm for jaw popping. I’m O.K. with a person chewing sugarless gum for a few minutes after meals and snacks. That can help prevent tooth decay and it can give you nice, fresh breath. But not for more than a few minutes. You could unintentionally causing problems for yourself down the road.
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