Jaw pain is a very common problem affecting millions of people worldwide. It causes many treatment challenges in the healthcare community when it comes to diagnosis and treatment. As there are so many potential causes to jaw pain, correct diagnosis is extremely important. Doctors need to identify the exact cause in order to provide the best course of pain-relieving treatments. Read on to learn more about jaw pain.
The jawbone is also called a mandible. It connects to the skull at a pair of joints known as the temporomandibular joints, or TMJs. These are located right in front of ears, and they let you open and close your mouth. Your jaw also holds your teeth and gums, which can be sensitive to heat, cold, or pressure. They also can get infected if you don’t keep them clean.
TMJ is one of the most common reasons for jaw pain. About 1 in 8 people may have a TMJ disorder. However, it’s more common among women. You might get it if you injure your jaw or after an illness. Arthritis or other conditions can attack the cartilage that helps protect your joint. Stress can worsen it as well.
There are several possible causes of jaw pain and these may be related to physical injury, nerve problems, or blood vessel problems. Other known causes of jaw or facial pain include conditions, such as:
- Teeth grinding, clenching, or opening the mouth too wide: Most often, teeth grinding and clenching is experienced during sleep and can lead to tooth damage and jaw pain. It can also occur during periods of increased emotional stress.
- Osteomyelitis: This is a condition where an infection in the body affects the bones and associated tissues.
- Arthritis: Arthritic conditions, such as osteoarthritis and osteoarthrosis, which lead to the surface of bones wearing away.
- Synovitis or capsulitis: These are conditions in which the lining of the joint or a connecting ligament becomes inflamed.
- Dental conditions: These can include gum disease, cavities, tooth gaps, damaged teeth, or abscesses.
The presenting symptoms of jaw pain vary depending on the cause. They may include:
- facial pain that worsens when the jaw is used
- joint and muscle tenderness
- limited range of motion
- clicking or popping sounds with opening or closing of the jaw
- ringing in the ears
- headaches with or without ear pain and pressure behind the eyes
- jaw locking
In order to access the cause of your jaw pain, your doctor will first ask you a couple of questions about your pain, like when it began, how severe it is, and whether the pain is intermittent or constant. Moreover, he will also inquire about whether there has been any recent jaw trauma, as well as habits that may trigger jaw pain. The timing of the jaw pain, like whether it occurs in the morning upon awakening, can also help a doctor figure out the diagnosis.
Treatment of jaw pain depends on what the cause is. Treatment methods are varied and may include the following:
- antibiotics if the jaw pain is caused by an infection
- surgery to remove damaged bone, treat an affected nerve, or to diagnose the problem
- use of a mouth protector, such as a mouth guard
- muscle relaxants or tranquilizers to aid in relaxing the affected muscles
- antidepressants, which can sometimes help treat painful conditions
- topical capsaicin, which is helpful in treating some nerve-related conditions
- antiviral therapy to treat viral infections, such as herpes zoster
While getting to the bottom of your jaw pain may take a little patience and persistence on your end, especially if you find yourself going back and forth between your dentist and your primary care doctor, be assured that once the source is found and a diagnosis is made, the vast majority of people can obtain relief.