TMJ = Temporomandibular Joint
TMJ popping happens when the joint is not functioning in ideal fashion. This is joint that hinges the JAW or MANDIBLE to the skull. There are two joints, one on each side of the jaw (see picture below). The mandible is not connected to the skull like a hinge, but is instead held in a sling of the muscles of mastication, including the masseter, temporalis, and medial and lateral pterygoids.
The most comfortable position when the muscles are the most relaxed, or neuromuscular position is also referred to as the physiologic rest position. If you jaw is held in a position other than this for extended periods of time, it leads to TMD.
TMD: This stands for TEMPOROMANDIBULAR DISORDER. This is a generalized term which is often used for any type of disorder of the TMJ, such as lockjaw, jaw pain, tmj clicking, or tmj popping.
Below is a picture of the TMJ, and its component parts.
Temporomandibular Disorder can be caused by many different things, such as GRINDING or CLENCHING, or previous TRAUMA.
POPPING or CLICKING: When the DISC and JAW are not moving in unison, a POPPING sound may be heard. This is not uncommon, and not normally cause for concern unless there is severe discomfort.
LOCK JAW: This occurs when the DISC and JAW are not moving in unison and the DISC gets displaced, causing the inability to move the JAW.
Dental Nightguards are think acrylic mouthguards which go over either your upper or lower teeth, and decrease the amount of trauma caused to your TMJs when you grind your teeth. They are also very good for protecting your teeth from excessive wear.
It may also include such irreversible treatments such as:
The fact that your tmj pops or makes noise, is not necessarily a big deal. It is very common for the tmj to pop or deviate, or occasionally lock, but if it doesn't alter a your lifestyle or prevent you from functioning, you are probably better off managing it as you can.
You can seek treatment if you want, but you may end up going down the proverbial rabbit hole, which can become very time consuming and expensive, and may not completely alleviate your symptoms.
Nightguards or any reversible treatment is usually preferred over irreversible treatment.