What is jaw pain?
Any kind of discomfort observed while eating, speaking or swallowing, etc., in your lower jaw or the jaw joint or facial muscles are indicative of Jaw pain.
Sometimes the pain may start from the side of your face to your neck and head region, which is often referred to as jaw malady or temporomandibular joint disorder. TMJ or jaw joint is the muscle connecting the lower jaw with the temporal bone of the skull and is responsible for keeping your lower and upper jaw together.
The underlying cause of the jaw pain may vary from person to person and depend on the cause, the jaw pain may be sometimes mild or dull, however, in some others the pain may be so excruciating that it’s not possible to open the mouth. Jaw pain in certain cases may be relieved by having soft food, using ice packs to heal, mild painkillers, avoiding jaw movements like swallowing, singing to avoid straining muscles.
Jaw pain is also often associated with grinding and clenching of teeth, which may be the result of stress conditions. Thus, stress relieving techniques like meditation, exercising, changing lifestyle habits are also sometimes considered as best treatment solutions for jaw pain.
What causes Jaw pain?
There are various factors associated with jaw pain and the pain in the lower jaw may not always be indicative of the ailment in the bone or muscles of the lower jaw. Pain in the jaw may originate from any of these: the temporomandibular joint; the gums or teeth; muscles of the lower jaw; salivary glands or heart.
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMD)
This is the most common cause of lower jaw pain and is also known as TMJ. The temporomandibular joints are the two joints which connect the lower jaw with the frontal lobe of the skull. The TMD jaw pain may be due to the result of various factors like:
- Dislocation of the disc that protects or cushions the joint
- Arthritis of the disc
- Muscular pain in the joints that involve jaw movement
- Any kind of injury in the jaw joint.
Damage to the muscles involving jaw movement may be caused due to involuntary grinding or clenching of teeth, physical injury or trauma while playing or accidental injury.
Tooth decay may be the most common problem associated with jaw pain. The outer layer of the teeth called as enamel is worn out which leads to the formation of cavities. The food particle gets trapped in the cavities leading to bacterial infection causing decay of teeth. The pain caused due to tooth decay may be unbearable and is often accompanied by facial swelling.
A fracture in the lower jaw may be caused because of the vehicle accidents, sports injury or due to any assaults. Jaw pain because of the fractured bone may be very unbearable. The person may have facial pain along with swelling; unbearable pain involving jaw movements like opening and closing the mouth; tenderness at the site often accompanied with bleeding and disfigurement of the facial structure.
The symptoms and causes of the dislocated jaw, in general, resembles that of a fractured jaw. This condition is caused when the mandible in the lower jaw area slips from its actual place connecting to the skull i.e. in the temporomandibular jaw. Sometimes the jaw slips back to its original place by itself while in other cases medical treatment may be required.
Pain in the lower or upper jaw may be caused when the third molars which erupt quite lately than the other teeth have no sufficient space to emerge properly. The condition accompanies swelling of the face or jawline along with gums, bleeding in gums, difficulty in opening the mouth and also headaches.
This is often caused by the decayed tooth when pus gets accumulated around the tooth. The pus may be at the base of the tooth or it may very often affect surrounding tissues.
Heart Attack or Angina Pectoris
Jaw pain is one of the most common symptoms of heart attack, although it often ignored. Blood supply to the heart wall is affected due to the blockage which causes pain in the jawline, chest area, and arm. A heart attack may be fatal within minutes of experiencing pain and before any action can be taken.
Apart from above-mentioned causes, few other reasons that may be associated with jaw pain are a problem in salivary glands also known as Parotitis; locking of the jaw; ear infection; the presence of a malignant tumor; periodontitis; fibrous dysplasia in the mandible or lower jaw; gingivitis; arthritis and synovitis.
Symptoms of jaw pain
Jaw pain may be associated with various symptoms depending on the underlying causes of jaw pain. For example, a patient may have a fever if the pain is because of some inflammation or bacterial or fungal infection. In certain cases, the jaw pain may be associated with seemingly different and unrelated parts of the body like jaw pain may be indicative of various life-threatening disorders like a heart attack.
In general, the symptoms associated with jaw pain are difficulty in opening the mouth, swallowing, or yawning; pain in the neck, shoulder, head or ear; dizziness; locking or popping of the jaw; clenching or grinding of teeth; tooth pain or swelling around the face or jaw etc.
Relief From Jaw pain
Often the treatment procedures for jaw pain depends on the diagnosis of the underlying cause. In general, the various treatment therapies that are used depending on the type of patient are as below:
Jaw Pain Treatment Procedures
Very often physicians may generally rely on the noninvasive treatment procedures for the pain management, however, in case of persisting or extensive pain further treatment procedures may be required to relieve the pain. Some of the medical treatments are listed below:
Use of Mouthguard: Mouthguard is a custom fit cap like plastic protector which can be worn on your upper or lower teeth. Use of mouthguard during bedtime prevents unconscious grinding of teeth, which helps in relieving pain. A mouthguard is easily available in any pharmacy shop, but it is always better to go for a custom fitted one, which may fit better and last longer.
Muscle relaxers: In certain cases, there may not be much relief by using a mouth guard, in those conditions, doctors may prescribe certain muscle relaxers which helps reducing tension in the muscles thus decreasing the pain.
Botox injections: These are kind of cosmetic injections consisting of botulinum toxins, which helps prevents the clenching of the jaw muscles and thus relieving pain. The effect of injection is only for a month and injection may be required.
Jaw surgery: Surgery is often considered as the last option and is done only in patients where the problem is extensive and mostly due to certain structural issues.
Immediate Relief from Jaw Pain
- Ice packs may be wrapped in a napkin and applied to the affected area for 10-15 min. Similarly, napkin may be dipped and rinsed in warm water and can be placed on the affected area. Both the methods helps in relaxing of muscles and thus relieving pain.
- Mild painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help in immediate relief from pain, however, these shall be avoided regularly.
- Gently massaging the affected area with your index figure in a circular motion may also help in relieving pain.
There are many lifestyle changes that may be incorporated into the long-term relief from jaw pain condition such as:
- Stress relieving techniques like yoga, meditation, workout shall be incorporated into a daily regime which helps in decreasing teeth grinding and clenching.
- Soft foods shall be incorporated into the diet and food items that are hard, sticky, chewy and causes discomfort in eating and swallowing shall be avoided.
- Caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee shall be restricted. Caffeine contributes to muscle tension and thus may cause jaw pain if taken in large amounts.
Jaw Pain FAQs
What causes throbbing jaw pain?
Conditions like Atypical odontalgia, Tooth abscess Temporal arteritis and Facial migraine cause throbbing jaw pain.
What causes upper jaw pain?
Upper jaw pain is mainly caused by maxillary sinusitis and teeth problems.
What causes lower jaw pain?
TMJ is the most common cause of lower jaw pain. Some of the other causes are coronary heart disease, pain radiating from back, ear, heart or neck or inflamed salivary glands.
Can stress cause jaw pain?
Yes, many people in stress tend to grind or clench their teeth while they are sleeping causing muscular tension resulting in jaw pain.
What causes jaw pain on the right side?
TMJ, Trigeminal neuralgia, injury, and teeth problems are the common causes of pain in the right side of the jaw.
What causes jaw pain on the left side?
Sinusitis, coronary heart disease, and teeth problems are the common causes of pain in the left side.