Jaw pain is described as an uncomfortable, painful, and debilitating condition that can have a sudden or gradual onset. The exact symptoms also depend on the underlying cause of jaw pain. When a person has jaw pain, it can significantly affect his or her ability to speak and consume food or drinks.
To help treat jaw pain, the root cause should be identified first. Let’s take a look at some of the possible causes of jaw pain.
Causes of Jaw Pain
In most cases, jaw pain is caused by jaw joint injuries or jaw abnormalities. However, there are also several other causes of jaw pain.
1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD and TMJ Disorders)
Temporomandibular joint disorders are the most common causes of jaw pain that nearly affect 10 million Americans. The hinge joints located on each side of the jaw are called temporomandibular joints.
There are several causes of TMD jaw pain and they include:
- Damaged or injured jaw joints
- Painful muscles that control the movements of the jaw
- Excessive jaw joint stimulation
- Displaced TMJ disc that cushions jaw movements
- Protective disc arthritis
The muscles that control jaw movements and jaw joints can be injured or damaged due to:
- Bruxism or teeth grinding at night
- Jaw joint trauma (e.g., sports-related facial trauma)
- Involuntary jaw clenching due to anxiety and stress
2. Serious tooth infection
In some cases, people with dental abscesses or severe tooth infections may experience significant pain that can extend to the jaw.
3. Sinus pain and congestion
The sinuses are hollow cavities that are situated near the jaw joint. When the sinuses are blocked and become infected with bacteria or a virus, excessive mucus can be produced, which can put extra pressure on the joints and cause jaw pain.
4. Cluster headaches (headache behind the eye)
The pain experienced by people with cluster headaches can be very severe. Cluster headaches are usually characterized by pain behind one eye or around one eye. Due to the extreme pain it causes, the pain even reaches the jaw and cause jaw pain.
5. Trigeminal neuralgia
This type of facial pain usually involves pain in the jaw and lower face. In some cases, the pain is also experienced above the eye and around the nose.
The pain is also described as a stabbing, intense, and electric shock-like due to trigeminal nerve irritation. The trigeminal nerve is a large cranial nerve that is responsible for motor functions and facial sensations, including chewing and biting. Moreover, the pain tends to be limited to just one side of the face.
6. Heart attack
Aside from the chest, neck, arms, and back, a heart attack can also cause pain to other parts of the body, such as the jaw. During a heart attack, women are most likely to experience jaw pain on the left side of their face. Seek immediate medical attention or call 911 if you have any of the following signs and symptoms:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling lightheaded or a little faint
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
7. Other causes
Dental conditions, such as tooth gaps, gum disease, cavities, or damaged teeth can also cause jaw pain. Arthritis and other arthritic conditions, such as osteoarthrosis and osteoarthrosis can make the bones wear away and cause pain.
The following are conditions that may also cause facial and jaw pain:
- Lyme disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis,
- Certain mental health conditions
Pain may also be due to sleep disturbances, tiredness, emotional stress, lack of nutrients, and other lifestyle-related factors.
The symptoms of jaw pain usually vary depending on the underlying cause. Some of the common symptoms that accompany jaw pain are:
- Limited range of motion
- Jaw locking
- Tension headaches
- Pain behind the eye or around one eye
- Earache or ear pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Misaligned jaw issues
- A popping or clicking sound when closing or opening the mouth
- Facial swelling
- Extreme facial pain
- Neck ache
Other symptoms may also arise depending on the main cause of jaw pain. If you are experiencing these symptoms along with jaw pain, seek immediate medical attention for proper evaluation and treatment.
Complications may arise due to several factors. They are usually based on the cause of jaw pain as well as certain medications used. Jaw pain complications may include:
- Surgical or dental complications
- Emotional distress
- Chronic pain
- Changes in food habits
Jaw pain treatment usually depends on the root cause of pain. The following are treatments that can be used to help relieve jaw pain:
- Physical therapy
- Pain medications
- Local anesthetic injections
- Prescription medications or oxygen therapy for cluster headaches
- Blood pressure medications when therapy involves treating migraines
- Relaxation techniques
- Tranquilizers or muscle relaxants
- Antibiotics for infection
- Antiviral medications for viral infections
- Steroid injections to help reduce inflammation and swelling
- Cold and heat therapy
- Dental procedures (e.g., tooth extraction or root canal treatment to fix oral dental problems)
- Consuming a soft diet to avoid crunching or having excessive jaw movements
- Using a mouth guard as a mouth protector
- Topical capsaicin for neuropathic pain and other conditions that involve the nerves
- Good and correct posture to avoid back and neck strain
- Surgery to help diagnose the problem, remove a damaged bone, or treat affected or damaged nerves
- Counseling to help understand behaviors and factors that can make the pain worse
To help prevent jaw pain from recurring, knowing its triggers can really help. The following are preventive measures that you can follow to help prevent the recurrence of jaw pain:
- Regularly see your dentist for dental checkups.
- Avoid carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder for a long period of time. Try to frequently switch shoulders.
- Always maintain good posture.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Sleep on your side or back instead.
- Avoid clenching or grinding your teeth.
- Avoid letting out a big yawn.
- Avoid consuming caffeine.
- Try to eat smaller, bite-sized foods, soft foods (e.g. pasta or porridge) or liquid foods (e.g., soup)
- Avoid chewing gum, crunchy foods, and biting fingernails
- Take magnesium and calcium supplements as needed
- Meditate, get a massage, or do aerobic exercise