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A crackling or a popping sound at the base of the skull is commonly an indication of TMJ problems. TMJ, which is a commonly used abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint, is a complex arrangement of muscles, bones, cartilages, ligaments and the articular disc over which the various sliding movements take place.

Since there are so many different components to the TMJ, it can be extremely difficult to identify the possible cause of a particular problem and often the solution involves a series of treatment rather than one single procedure.

Some of the symptoms of TMJ disorders are:

  • Clicking: Most commonly, this clicking noise is heard when the soft disc covering the Mandibular condyle gets malaligned and thus a direct bony contact occurs between the different moving parts of the joint.

There are several reasons why this could occur ranging from a direct blow to the jaw, the habit of night grinding or even a poorly designed denture.

  • Stiffness of the Jaw : When the jaw is not closing and opening in the same movement arc it is supposed to, it puts an additional stress on the attached muscles. These muscles of chewing are very sensitive to changes in patterns of usage and thus a useful guide to help identify potential problems.
  • Crackling noise/ Crepitus: This crackling noise usually comes from the joint after a significant amount of damage has been done. It is considered as a sign of degenerative changes having taken place in the articular disc or a tear has taken place within the structure.
  • Lock Jaw: This is again one of the symptoms that occur when a dislocation of the joint takes place. Poor muscle tone, injury or a genetic alteration in the normal structure of the jaw are the prime reasons why lock jaw occurs.

Possible Reasons for Crackling of the Jaw

A crackling noise can be heard from the joint following an acute injury, development of arthritis, parafunctional habits like bruxism or autoimmune conditions like Rheumatoid arthritis.

The noises that take place within the jaw are amplified because of the proximity to the middle ear. Often, patients can wonder how no one else is able to loud noises that are so apparent to them.


The first step is to take a detailed clinical history and do a clinical examination of the TMJ. If a larger systemic disease is in play here then the patient is bound to exhibit other symptoms that will provide a clue.

Doctors also may need to order a CT scan or MRI of the jaw to pinpoint the damage and confirm the initial diagnosis. Once the cause has been identified, a comprehensive treatment plan can be finalized. Parafunctional habits can be corrected in a relatively straightforward manner by dentists to help reduce the amount of damage being done to the jaws, however, it should be understood that degenerative changes that have taken place are irreversible.

The aim of the treatment is to prevent further damage and to try and provide the patient with an acceptable solution to manage their clinical condition.  

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