What Causes Jaw Pain and How Is it Treated

What Causes Jaw Pain and How Is it Treated
profile picture of Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
What Causes Jaw Pain and How Is it TreatedClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Clinical content featured by Byte is reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to help ensure clinical accuracy.

We follow strict sourcing guidelines and each page contains a full list of sources for complete transparency.

Table of Contents

  1. Common Types of Jaw Pain
  2. Jaw Pain Symptoms
  3. Causes of Jaw Pain
  4. When To See A Doctor
  5. References

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are two joints connecting the mandible (lower jaw) to the skull. Along with several other muscles, the temporomandibular joints allow the mandible to move side to side and up and down. This movement helps you to chew, swallow, talk and yawn.

Temporomandibular joint syndrome affects the normal functioning of these joints. Consequently, the condition interferes with the joint’s functionality. How can you tell if you have temporomandibular joint disorder? More importantly, how can you treat the condition?

Common Types of Jaw Pain

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, about 11% of Americans suffer from jaw pain. This jaw pain can be classified into various categories, including:

Common Types of Jaw Pain
  • Myofascial pain. Considered one of the most common types of jaw pain, myofascial pain causes pain and discomfort in the fascia and muscles that control the shoulder, neck, and jaw functions. The fascia is a connective tissue that covers most muscles.
  • Internal derangement of joints. This is a condition caused by a displaced disk, dislocated jaw, or an injured condyle. The condyle is the rounded end located between the jawbone and the base of the temporal skull bone.
  • Degenerative joint disease. This condition is caused by rheumatoid arthritis osteoarthritis in the jaw joint.

It’s worth noting that jaw pain can be caused by one or more of these conditions at the same time.

Jaw Pain Symptoms

Physical injuries, infections and damaged nerves and blood vessels can all lead to a painful jaw. Temporomandibular joint disorder refers to a cluster of conditions that affect the muscles, joints, and bones attributed to the jaw’s movement.

In some cases, pain subsides with time and no medical intervention is required. But there are instances in which these conditions lead to chronic pain and discomfort. Chronic pain is a signal to seek medical help.

Depending on the level of discomfort and how long the pain lasts, you can evaluate if you should get medical assistance or wait to see if the pain subsides on its own.

Symptoms associated with jaw pain vary. Common symptoms include:

  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • Jaw locking
  • Difficulty in opening your mouth or chewing
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Pain in the jaw and face
  • Burning sensations inside your mouth
  • Popping, grinding, or clicking sounds
Stress reduction can help reduce jaw pain, and it is suggested to try stress-relieving techniques to reduce jaw clenching, such as yoga, reflection journal, and meditation.

Causes of Jaw Pain

Causes of Jawn Pain

Some of the potential causes of a painful jaw include arthritis, teeth clenching and grinding at night, sinus issues, tooth issues and temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder.

Arthritis

Various types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, can cause wear and tear to the jawbones and the smooth interface between them. As a result, the increased pressure exerted leads to bone pain.

Additionally, inflammatory conditions may cause inflammation, leading to jaw pain when the jaw bone joint is affected. These inflammatory conditions include psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and synovitis.

Teeth Clenching and Grinding
Some people are prone to clenching or grinding their teeth either when stressed or asleep. This condition is known as bruxism and can significantly contribute to jaw pain and teeth damage.
Dental Conditions
Various dental and mouth hygiene conditions can cause chronic jaw pain. These include damaged teeth, tooth gaps, gum disease, abscesses, and cavities.
Sinus Problems
Sinus cavities are located close to the jaw and are full of air cavities. When the sinuses are affected with viral or bacterial germs, they produce excess mucus. This excess mucus exerts pressure on the jaw, resulting in pain and general discomfort.
Tooth Pain
Dental abscesses are severe tooth pain that leads to pain that often concentrates in the jaw. When left unchecked, tooth pain can result in jaw discomfort.
Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorder (TMD)

Affecting well over 11 million Americans, TMDs are among the leading cause of jaw pain. Temporomandibular joints are located on each side of the jaw and can be affected independently or together.

Several factors are attributed to Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder. Among them:

  • Injury to the jaw joints
  • Arthritis in the protective joints responsible for cushioning the jaw joint
  • Overstimulation of the jaw joint
  • Pain from the muscles controlling the jaw's movement

There are numerous anecdotal remedies that can be used to alleviate pain jaw and treat Temporomandibular joints and muscles disorder. Common home and medical remedies are:

  • Placing an ice pack to the affected area
  • Soothing essential oils such as clary sage, chamomile, lavender, and sweet marjoram
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen and ibuprofen. Other pain relief medications such as acetaminophen and aspirin may also be used
  • Gentle massage and self-stretching exercises to the neck and jaw muscles
  • Medical marijuana can also be used in legalized states to help manage TMD pain
  • In extreme cases, minimal dental surgical procedures may be used

When Should You See a Doctor Because of Jaw Pain?

You don't necessarily need to see a doctor when you have jaw pain. But there are times when you should. Among them:

  • You've tried home remedies with no success; your jaw still hurts
  • The jaw pain interferes with your day-to-day activities
  • You experience pain in the upper back or neck
  • You suffer from dental issues, such as broken teeth
  • You start experiencing eye pain, headaches or vision impairment
  • When there's a noticeable change in how the jaw moves or your teeth line up

You should also get to the doctor’s office if you have long-term pain in your jaw. If your pain is chronic, you need a medical diagnosis of what’s happening.

References

TMJ Disorders. (September 2017). National Institutes of Health. Date fetched: July 31, 2021.

TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint & Muscle Disorders). (July 2021). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Date fetched: July 31, 2021.

TMD: Identifying Pathways Involved in Chronic Pain and its Endogenous Resolution. (July 2018). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Date fetched: July 30, 2021.

More Than Jaw Pain. (September 2020). National Institutes of Health. Date fetched: July 30, 2021.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Temporomandibular Disorders. (March 2015). American Family Physician. Date fetched: July 31, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

TOP