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What Are the Causes of Jaw Pain?

Sinus infections may cause jaw pain.
A heart attack may cause jaw pain.
TMJ syndrome may cause tooth and ear pain.
Ice packs may help alleviate dry socket pain.
A gum infection may be responsible for jaw pain.
Thumb-sucking causes the jaw to ache.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Revised By: Geisha A. Legazpi
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Jaw pain can be caused by a wide variety of medical problems. It is usually categorized as primary pain, which is caused by problems with the jaw itself, or secondary pain, which is caused by problems with other parts of the body. Some types of pain can be prevented, and many can be treated, though getting treatment early is important. Some of the most common causes of jaw pain include trauma, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs), and sinus infections. Some people also experience pain in the jaw when they have a heart attack or migraine.

Primary Pain

Trauma to the jaw is one of the most common primary causes of jaw pain. This often happens as a result of bruxism, which is the frequent grinding and unconscious clenching of the teeth. An abscess, a tumor, or gum infection can also cause pain, as can dental problems. For example, if a person's teeth are not aligned properly, or are irregularly spaced — called a malocclusion — he or she may have trouble biting or chewing properly, and this can lead to severe pain and facial deformities.

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Bruxism and malocclusion can also lead to TMD, which is a chronic, long-term inflammation of the jaw. This causes severe, extended pain along with frequent headaches. Stress and anxiety also play a role in the development of this condition, since bruxism often increases when a person is stressed. Another serious cause of jaw pain is tetanus, which can cause the muscles that work the jaw to continuously contract; this is why this condition is also called lockjaw.

Primary jaw pain may also be caused by bone spurs and deep-seated wisdom teeth. Habits that put pressure on the jaw — nail biting, chewing gum, thumb-sucking, holding a phone between the shoulder and jaw, or sleeping on the back or side — can also cause pain over time. Joint diseases, such as arthritis, can also affect the jaw because they may be accompanied by bone degeneration. Additionally, many people feel pain after oral surgery or getting a tooth pulled.

Secondary Pain

One of the most serious secondary causes of jaw pain is a heart attack, which can cause pain that radiates from the jaw down the arm and shoulder. Trigeminal neuralgia, a facial nerve disorder, can also cause debilitating pain. Carotidynia, a type of migraine, can cause problems, particularly if the person grinds his or her teeth in reaction to the pain. Many people feel pressure or pain in the jaw when they get an ear or sinus infection because of the increased pressure in the ear and sinus cavities. Swollen glands in the neck can cause similar pain. Scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C, and phossy jaw, which is caused by exposure to white phosphorous, can also damage the jaw, though these conditions are rare in developed countries.

Prevention

The prevention for jaw pain largely depends on the cause. Though there's no way to prevent some things, like arthritis or trigeminal neuralgia, some causes can be avoided. For instance, people can often prevent TMD by consciously relaxing the face and jaw, reducing stress, and avoiding things that put pressure on the jaw. If the TMD is caused by or made worse by malocclusion, realigning the teeth or jaw may also help. This is particularly effective when done in children who are not yet in pain.

Common sense precautions can also help prevent many jaw problems. For instance, good dental hygiene can help prevent gum infections and other dental problems that can cause pain. Sleeping on the back with a supportive pillow and using a headset rather than keeping a phone between the shoulders and ear can help avoid putting pressure on the jaw.

Treatment

Jaw pain is usually initially treated with over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. For pain caused by bruxism or TMD, dentists may recommend people use splints that help prevent them from clenching their teeth while sleeping, or may recommend stress-reducing exercises. TMD can also be treated with intra-aural devices, which are small plastic inserts that are inserted into the ear, where they reduce pressure on the temporomandibular joint. For chronic or severe cases, dentists may choose to use a procedure called arthrocentesis, which involves injecting an anti-inflammatory solution into the joint, or surgery to reposition the jaw.

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Discuss this Article

anon927800
Post 23

The information about jaw pain was very good, and it detailed enough information that one can identify where the problem comes from. In my case, the problem seems to be what my dentist told me several months ago, and I will call and see him soon. Thanks for your information. --JFL

anon313163
Post 22

I have had pain in my bottom left jaw that's been going on for two days now. Just yesterday, my upper jaw started to hurt to now today my upper right jaw is hurting. and all the main pain is in the part where they connect. I'm just 13.

anon311733
Post 21

I used to hear music through the left earphone only. I experienced some pain in that ear and thus stopped using it. The next day I started feeling pain in the left side of my jaw, and was unable to chew properly. I am still having the pain. I hope that it gets better. It's my first day and I am already scared.

anon306958
Post 20

I'm going to my dentist tomorrow for pain on my right side of my jaw and which acts like pain in my inner right ear. It's been five weeks and I am about to go crazy.

After reading what other people have written, I am afraid no one will figure out what is causing the pain. I guess I will see what happens. I feel for all the ones who have this same problem. I hope you all can find relief.

anon238987
Post 17

TMJ pain is often caused by too much contraction of the muscles in the jaw and their effects on their relationship with the temporal mandibular joint. Constant contraction causes inflammation and displacement in the temporomandibular joint, causing pain. To reduce the amount of tension in the muscles that is caused by habitual contraction due to stress, pain or ill fitting dental work, one must regularly stretch those same jaw muscles. The stretch is very simple to do and takes just seconds, but it is difficult to explain without demonstration.

Let me try to explain: First, open your mouth and jaws to as wide as they will open comfortably. Second, place the full length of your index finger along the tops of your bottom front teeth, along four to six of them. Third, at the same time, press down with your finger onto the tops of your teeth and up with your teeth into your finger, creating opposing pressure (use only medium pressure; the tmj is a delicate joint) for about six or seven seconds and then relax the jaw. Fourth, gently open your jaw slightly wider and repeat this three times. Each time that you first tense and then release your muscles, it will allow your mouth to open slightly wider, which creates a gentle stretch of your jaw muscles. This will release the pressure on your TMJ allowing it to fit together properly.

Do these stretches before bed, upon waking and once during your day, every day until your pain is gone. Do this stretch whenever pain reappears. If it is due to dental problems, get dental attention even if your pain stops; it means that you need some adjustments or repairs.

A growing cause of TMJ pain is stress due to daily living: the economy, family death, moving or losing a home, credit card debt, failed relationships, etc. Just hang in there and keep stretching to manage your pain in joints. Also, try a warm pack or cool pack, or both. Take a warm, relaxing bath or enjoy a hot tub or swim as often as possible for stress reduction.

anon231025
Post 16

My daughter has been suffering with pain in her jaws for about a year. I have brought her to doctors and a dentist. They keep giving her pain pills. They are not doing anything more. The dentist said it was growing pain in her jaw, but I have never heard of it. Any ideas? Help, please. It is so hard to see my daughter suffer. She is only 14.

anon230438
Post 15

I've found that the key to TMJ disorder is to try non-invasive treatments that do not change your bite. The patients that I've read about seem to get better without invasive treatments like occlusal adjustment, crowns, surgeries, etc.

For me, I tried many, many treatments and ended up worse and thousands in debt because I didn't just try to do simple home care stuff like not eating hard foods and applying heat.

I found an article about self care that's pretty good, from TMJ Hope. They seem to be into the non-invasive thing too. Good luck to everyone!

anon218612
Post 14

I have had many of the same problems with my jaw hurting and clicking. After I went to the dentist I found out I have cracked tooth (at the root). We are holing off on pulling it for now. I have been wearing a night guard and this has helped tremendously!

anon186911
Post 13

I've been having jaw pain on the right side where my lower and upper jaw meet for several months. It's hard to chew and sometimes I can hardly open my mouth to bite certain foods. I have arthritis in most of my joints so I'm not sure if it's related. But I've never really had jaw pain until recently, and I've had arthritis for 30 years. I haven't gone to a dentist, but it just doesn't seem like it would be a dental problem. None of my teeth are bothering me or anything.

Anyway, I answer phones all day for my job and I wear a bluetooth headset on my right side. I noticed that it sits right around the area of where I'm having pain. So I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but now I wear the headset on the left side. We'll see if the pain moves to the left side.

Here are some things that I've found help with the pain and loosen up my jaw some: 1) massaging the jaw joint with my thumb. 2) opening my mouth and touching the roof of my mouth with my tongue. It relaxes your jaw or something. (I heard this tip on Dr. Oz).

anon179425
Post 11

my husband has suffered from left side jaw pain for three weeks now. some sites are suggesting a massage on the affected area with some strokes and instructions, and he said it helps but what he wants is a pill or capsules medications for it. Can anyone suggest or help him what to take?

anon174338
Post 10

Six years ago,the left side of my jaw ached like i locked my jaw. Six years on, it is the same.

i find at night i tend to move my jaw around and the pain gets much worse. I have to try to not move my jaw but i need to concentrate on this. Once i forget i am doing the same again and the pain gets worse. I have been to a chiropractic dentist, a jaw specialist and my doctor took x-rays, with no answers to what has or is still causing my left jaw pain. Please someone help.

anon165817
Post 9

I am 17 (almost 18) years old. Throughout the day, my jaw aches. It is painful to yawn and chew food. Biting into apples, forget it!

The dentist said it could possibly be my wisdom teeth coming in or because of bruxism. I can't believe her though! I don't grind my teeth at night. My ear also has this unusual lump right beneath the lobe. The family doctor said it would wear off, but it never did. From time to time, it hurts as well. Especially, when I press down on the lump.

anon162761
Post 8

I am 61 and I have never had problems with my jaw except if I eat really hard food, and that goes very quickly. In the last few months it was uncomfortable to open my mouth too far and then two weeks ago I felt a click when I bit on a biscuit. Since then I can't open my mouth without it clicking. It hurt's and is driving me crazy.

Can anyone help me? I have had a couple of treatments from a physiotherepist but when I chew anything or twist my jaw slightly it will click out and now I can't close my jaw without pain.

anon158602
Post 7

I have been experiencing jaw pain in my right jaw for now over two years. I don't grind and night. I know that for sure as my husband sees me sleep. If I eat anything remotely hard like a bite of a carrot. my jaw will ache for days. It also gets very stiff.

Not sure what this is. Is it arthritis in the jaw? I have been to many specialists and all they do is try to put me on tablets which I don't want.

Doctors are unaware of what the cause could be, so I have stopped trying and try to manage it the best I know how to by not placing pressure on my jaw. Sometimes it's ok, but majority of the time it is not. Please help me if you know.

anon138363
Post 6

i have had jaw pain, it was unbearable. i was using bluetooth, so i stopped using it for two weeks and the pain is gone.

anon132736
Post 5

I always used to have jaw pain in the point where the upper and lower jaw are connected. I got my tonsils and adenoids out yesterday and found that all of that pain disappeared! I feel so much better. I think the jaw pain was coming from my enlarged adenoids.

If you are experiencing pain in the same area that I was and also get a lot of ear infections (sign of enlarged adenoids) you should go to a throat nose and ear doctor and talk to them about getting your adenoids taken out.

anon117255
Post 4

I feel like I should post something, that people can learn from, since I've been learning and absorbing from many comments for years.

I had jaw discomfort, not pain really, off-and-on for about four years. It felt like my jaw was really tired and there was a rubber band underneath it all the time. It took extra effort to talk and really messed with me mentally because I had more to say than I was physically able to speak. I hated it.

This would happen every couple of months for weeks at a time and I was desperately trying to figure out what could be causing after reading many posts, just like this. I even thought barometric pressure could be causing this discomfort to my dumb jaw.

After ridding my jaw discomfort, here's my diagnosis, which are three things.

1. Stop eating tough foods. I love, love, love beef jerky and my jaw hates, hates, hates the stuff. If I eat really tough jerky, my jaw will be tired for a couple of hours afterwards, if not the rest of the day. I still learn to lay off the stuff, but it happens and the jaw discomfort comes back temporarily, which makes it tough to speak.

2. Stop jaw grinding. I didn't think I was jaw grinding until I woke myself up in the middle of the night because it was so loud. Obviously that was causing discomfort the next day.

I looked into jaw grinding and a combination of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can lead to some fun-fun, nocturnal grinding action and jaw discomfort. In my early twenties, when this started, I was drinking tons of coffee, smoking cigs and drinking a lot at college. I brought those habits home after college, and the jaw grinding. Once I learned that college-combo leads to jaw grinding, I laid off of it and slowly, the jaw grinding stopped. So, did the sore, tired jaw.

3. Stretching the neck muscle. Despite my unhealthy caffeine/alcohol/nicotine habit, I worked out -- a lot. And I never stretched -- ever. I thought it was boring and I didn't need it.

Well, if you're pretty stiff all the time, that can linger onto other problems, like jaw pain. Your jaw muscle is tied to other muscles in your body - if other muscles are tight, the jaw muscle is going to be tight, especially that your neck muscles, which can be tense when stressed.

I read about this and it makes total sense, which is why I didn't have jaw pain, but discomfort rather.

I haven't had jaw pain because I've quit smoking, moderate my coffee intake (not so much beer), try to lay off tough foods, and stretch now more than I did in the past.

Jaw pain/discomfort stinks and I firmly believe that these things can help you, so definitely give it a try. It's not going to happen overnight, so be dedicated to it and it will pay off.

anon79077
Post 3

I just had the same problem for the first time this a.m. -- waking up with jaw pain on my right side. I also think my pain is from clenching my teeth during sleep. No one has answered your question about a solution, desertdunes? I'll probably go to my dentist or primary care physician since I have had a lot of sinus/allergy problems of late.

By the way, I thought this article was fabulous!

Thanks, Pat

anon79015
Post 2

For the last two or three years I've been experiencing consistent jaw pain. I can't open my mouth fully and it is extremely difficult to eat foods like biscuits where i have to put pressure on my jaw.

It's only my left side and it is not a dental issue as i have had x-rays and nothing is shown. the pain is where the lower jaw connects to the upper jaw -- that's probably the best i can explain it.

It's an absolute nightmare and it had been perfect (little to no pain) over the last six months and just started up again within the last month. it's a pain and I'm only 15.

desertdunes
Post 1

I often wake up with my jaw aching from clenching my teeth all night in my sleep. Luckily I don't seem to grind them, but I must be putting a lot of pressure throughout the night.

I know they make a "guard" of some sort for people who grind their teeth, but is there anything for clenching? I don't think the grind guards would do anything since I'd still be applying the pressure.

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