Jaw Pain

1 Jaw Pain

Pain in the jaw seems to be a common condition that affects many people worldwide. At times, it may feel a little unbearable, which may have an impact on the ability to speak or eat. Since there can be multiple causes of jaw pain, the process of diagnosis becomes very much critical. This also poses various challenges in the healthcare world. For providing the right course of treatment, the doctors would need to carry out a careful examination after which they can get to the root cause of the problem. The jaw is the joint that is used most often. You may think of not going on a walk or avoid doing certain activities to provide rest for your knee or the hips, but it is quite hard to provide that rest for the jaw because it does so many important actions, like yawning, eating, sleeping and talking. Carrying out one of the other activities may lead to an achy jaw. At times, you may also be referred to a jaw surgeon to carefully examine your condition.

2 Causes

There are multiple causes for pain in the jaw. Some of them can be related to some injury in the nerves or the problems with the blood vessels. Whereas some can be related to a physical injury.

  • Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorder: One of the most common causes of jaw pain is diagnosed as TMJ or temporomandibular joint disorder. This particular condition tends to affect around 12 to 15 percent of  individuals worldwide. Due to the severity of the issue, some of them go in for prompt treatment. Women who are of childbearing age are the most common affected by this condition. The medical condition of TMJ can be characterized as a disorder of the temporomandibular joints and the muscles, which are mainly responsible for the movement of the jaw. These muscles that tend to get affected are called as masticatory muscles. There are multiple causes that can lead to pain in the jaw such as, injury caused to the joints of the jaw, arthritis of the protective disc which is known to normally cushion the jaw joints, too much stimulation of the jaw joint, and pain caused from the muscles which are known to normally control the movement of the jaw.
  • Sinus issues: Sinuses are known to be cavities which are filled up with air and they are very much closely located to the joints of the jaw. In case the sinuses get infected with any type of germ, such as a bacteria or a virus, then it can lead to major problems. The result of this infection would mean excess mucus, which in turn would start putting pressure on the jaw joint leading to too much pain in the jaw.
  • Arthritis: Certain arthritic conditions, known as osteoarthritis and osteoarthrosis, are known to cause wearing of the bone surfaces, which in turn would lead to jaw pain.
  • Cluster headaches: The cluster headache is normally characterized as the pain which arises either behind or around one of the eyes. At times this pain can also pass through the jaws leading to uneasiness. Cluster headaches are mostly known to be one of the most painful types of headaches that someone may suffer from.
  • Grinding of teeth: Certain other conditions, such as grinding of the teeth, opening the mouth too wide or clenching of the teeth can also lead to jaw pain. The cases of teeth grinding are mostly experienced by an individual during the night time when they are asleep. This condition of teeth grinding, if not treated on time, can cause pain in the jaw and damage to the teeth. Other times when an individual would resort to grinding of teeth is when they are too stressed.
  • Pain in the tooth: In cases of a severe tooth infection, which are also known as dental abscesses, the pain from tooth can also radiate to the jaw.
  • Heart Attack: The case of a heart attack can also lead to pain in most of the body parts apart from the chest. The pain can arise in the back, jaw, neck and arms. Women tend to mostly experience pain in the jaw, which is on the left side of the face when they are about to get a heart attack. In such cases do not ignore the symptoms, rather reach out to the doctor immediately. If you experience any of the symptoms such as sweating, feeling dizzy or fainting spells, discomfort in the chest, nausea and shortness of breath then you should be reaching out to the doctor immediately.
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia: This particular medical condition is said to be caused by the compression of the nerves present on the trigeminal nerve. These nerves are known to provide sensation mostly to a larger section of our face, which also includes the lower and the upper jaws. When you suffer from this condition, it can cause pain in the jaw.

3 Symptoms

The symptoms of jaw pain can vary from one person to another based the cause. Some of these symptoms are:

  • Feeling of tenderness in the muscles and the joints
  • Achy ears
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Jaw locking
  • There would be a limit in the range of motion
  • Constant ringing soundin the ear
  • Facial pain which can worsen when you make use of jaw either or eating, talking or some other purpose.
  • You may also experience headaches which can occur along with pain in the ear or some kind of pressure behind the eyes.
  • Issues with joint alignment
  • Vertigo
  • Tension or cluster headaches
  • Toothache that can slowly radiate to the jaw
  • Facial Swelling
  • Fever

Once the root cause of the jaw pain has been determined by the doctor, then the doctor will assist in creating a treatment plan. With a prompt diagnosis, you will not have any long-term consequences. Jaw doctors, dentists and oral surgeons can help in coming up with a proper diagnosis of your jaw pain.

4 Diagnosis

There are a few tests that the doctor can help carry out to help you diagnose the cause and create a treatment plan. Below are a few of tests that'll help find a prompt diagnosis:

  • The doctor would first try to understand your symptoms
  • A physical examination would also be carried out. This would include proper check-up of jaw, neck bones, nerves, muscles and the mouth.
  • They would ask you in detail about your medical history and any previous history of pain in the jaw.
  • If needed, they may also carry out certain laboratory tests that would include an erythrocyte sedimentation blood test. This test is normally used by doctors for diagnosing any condition that has pain involved in it.
  • Psychological as well as psychiatric screening to understand your mental state of mind.
  • If needed, they may also carry out an MRI or X-ray.

In case if the doctor has a suspicion that the jaw pain has been caused by a disease, then they may order more tests.

5 Treatment

Treatment for jaw pain goes as follows:

Heat or Ice Packs

Some people can get immediate relief if they apply ice packs or moist heat packs. All you need to do is, place the ice in a plastic bag and then wrap it around a thin cloth. You can apply this pack on your face for around ten minutes or so. Take it off your face for 10 minutes before you reapply it again. Another option is to take a washcloth and wet it with warm water. Once the washcloth is completely wet, you can apply it on the area of the jaw. The moistness of heat would help in relaxing the jaw muscles, which become overactive and provide you with relief. You would have to wet the washcloth multiple times to maintain the heat. There are also ice and heat packs readily available at your nearest pharmacist, and you can also get them online. However, they should always be covered each time you apply them on your face. 


Another option that can be done at home is to massage the joint that has been affected. For this you would need to use your index, as well as your middle finger. Gently press the jaw area. For example, you can press the area before the ear where your joints meet. Now rub it in a circular motion for about 6 to 10 rotations. Once the circular motion is completed, you should open your mouth and then repeat this process again. Massaging the muscles on the side of the neck would help in providing relief from jaw tensions.


In some cases, doctors also recommend to go in for acupuncture for jaw pain. Acupuncture is one the best methods to get rid of tension in the jaw. 

Avoiding foods that are chewy

Those foods that are tough, crunchy or chewy can lead to a lot of strain on the joints of the jaw. This may create discomfort later on. Avoid things like chewing gum, apples and ice until you don't have any more pain.

If you still have jaw pain after trying these methods, then you should visit a doctor. They can treat it with:

  • Mouthguard: The mouthguard is basically a dental protector made of plastic. It has to be worn on the lower as well as the upper part of your mouth. Most of these are custom made to fit the mouth. They work quite similarly to a wrist or knee brace, and it helps in holding the jaw at a correct position so as to provide relief from any kind of pain.
  • Injections: This can be one of the least favorite methods of treatment, but for some it may help a lot. Certain anti-inflammatory and steroid medicines would need to be injected directly into the jaw to provide relief from any kind of pain and inflammation.
  • Jaw surgery: In quite rare cases, the doctor would recommend the individual to go in for jaw surgery to correct the case of TMD. The surgery is mostly reserved for those people who are suffering from a severe form of pain, even after carrying out other forms of treatment method. This pain can be due to a structural issue in the joints of the jaw.

6 References