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Why Does My Jaw Hurt?

A woman experiencing jaw pain

Your jaw is an important part of your body that allows you to speak, eat, and express emotions through facial movements. So when it starts to hurt, it can be quite concerning. Jaw pain can be incredibly frustrating, and if you’ve ever found yourself massaging your face or struggling to open your mouth fully, you know just how debilitating it can feel.

This article will explain why your jaw might be causing you pain and what you can do about it.

What Are the Signs of Jaw Pain?

  • Persistent or Intermittent Pain. Persistent or intermittent pain is a common symptom of jaw pain. Continual pain is constant and can be dull or sharp. Conversely, intermittent pain comes and goes and can be triggered by certain movements or activities. Some people may experience sudden pain that seems to come out of nowhere, while others may feel pain only when they move their mouth a certain way or during certain activities.
  • Facial Pain. Pain isn’t always limited to the jaw. Many people with jaw pain also experience generalized facial pain that can radiate to areas like the ear or teeth. Other medical conditions, including sinus infections, nasal congestion, or dental issues such as gum disease or misaligned teeth, often cause this type of facial pain.
  • Joint Disorder. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) is a common cause of jaw pain. It’s a condition that affects the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is the joint that connects your jaw to your skull. TMD can cause pain in your jaw joint and the muscles controlling jaw movement. Some people with TMD also experience pain or discomfort in and around the ear, which can be misunderstood as an ear infection.
  • Dental Issues. Dental issues can also contribute to jaw pain. Tooth decay, or gum disease, can cause pain that radiates to the jaw. Misaligned teeth can also cause jaw pain because they place extra pressure on certain jaw areas when biting or chewing, leading to discomfort.
  • Nasal Congestion. Problems with the nasal cavities, such as sinus infections or nasal congestion, can also cause jaw pain. When your sinuses are inflamed, they can put pressure on the jaw joint, leading to discomfort.
  • Ear Infection. An ear infection can also cause jaw pain. This type of jaw pain can result from inflammation or congestion in the Eustachian tube, which runs from the middle of the ear to the back of the throat.
  • Chewing Difficulty. Difficulty or discomfort while chewing can be a symptom of jaw pain. Certain foods, particularly chewy or hard ones, may exacerbate the discomfort. You may also notice a clicking or popping sound in your jaw when you chew or talk.

Common Reasons for Jaw Pain

1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)

This joint disorder affects the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) and is a common cause of jaw pain on one side. Temporomandibular disorder can result in severe pain in the jaw, ear, and the muscles that control jaw movement. It may require medical attention, physical therapy, or over-the-counter pain medication based on the severity of the condition.

2. Sinus Infections

Inflamed or blocked nasal cavities can result in jaw discomfort. The inflammation of the nasal cavities behind the cheeks, under the eyes, and on either side of the nose can lead to facial pain, including jaw pain.

3. Misaligned Teeth

If your teeth are not aligned properly, they could strain your jaw muscles. This can cause jaw pain, along with headaches and other discomfort. Dental treatment may be required in this case.

4. Difficult Foods

Constantly chewing on hard or chewy foods can put extra pressure on your jaw muscles, leading to pain and discomfort.

5. Gum Disease or Periodontal Disease

These bacterial infections damage the gums and can destroy the jawbone over time. It could be a sign of one of these medical conditions if you’re dealing with consistent jaw pain.

6. Teeth Grinding at Night

If you unknowingly grind your teeth at night, it can result in sudden pain in your jaw. This can also lead to other dental issues over time.

7. Nerve Damage

Jaw pain can sometimes be a sign of nerve damage. One condition associated with this kind of pain is Trigeminal Neuralgia. This condition involves the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from your face to your brain. If you have trigeminal neuralgia, even mild stimulation of your face (such as from brushing your teeth or putting on makeup), may trigger an excruciating pain.

8. Tumors

Jaw pain can also sometimes be caused by tumors. Both benign and malignant tumors can originate in the jaw and cause symptoms such as swelling, pain, tenderness, and unexplained tooth mobility. For instance, a type of oral cancer called jaw bone cancer (also known as osteosarcoma) can cause jaw pain and swelling.

Benign tumors in the jaw, such as ameloblastoma or odontogenic myxoma, may also cause symptoms like pain and swelling. These tumors typically grow slowly and are usually not life-threatening. However, they may still require treatment to prevent complications, such as damage to the jawbone or nearby teeth. 

What Are Possible Treatments for Jaw Pain?

Dental Treatments

The root cause of your jaw pain might be dental issues such as gum disease, periodontal disease, misaligned teeth, or even impacted wisdom teeth. An erupted or partially erupted wisdom tooth can create discomfort and jaw pain. Your dentist might suggest Invisalign treatment to align your teeth or wisdom teeth extraction to alleviate the pain. In severe cases, surgery might be necessary.

Physical Therapy

If your jaw muscles are causing pain, physical therapy can help manage and reduce the discomfort. Your therapist might suggest exercises to strengthen the jaw muscles along with hot or cold compresses as a part of the treatment regime.

Medication

Over-the-counter pain medication can help manage most types of jaw pain. However, in cases of severe pain, muscle relaxants/muscle relaxers or other targeted treatment options might be recommended by a medical professional.

Lifestyle Changes

Making lifestyle changes is crucial if you suffer from teeth grinding. This condition may require you to wear a mouth guard at night, which can provide relief and prevent further damage. Additionally, to alleviate teeth grinding, avoiding hard and chewy foods is essential as they put unnecessary strain on your jaw muscles and joints.

Surgery

As mentioned, jaw pain can be caused by various conditions. One of the options for treating severe or persistent jaw pain is surgery. However, it’s important to note that this is typically considered as a last resort after other treatments have not provided sufficient relief.

Here’s how surgery can be used to treat jaw pain:

  • Arthrocentesis. This is a minimally invasive procedure usually used for patients experiencing TMJ disorders with no major history of TMJ. Small needles are inserted into the joint to irrigate it and remove inflammatory byproducts.

  • Arthroscopy. In arthroscopic surgery, a small thin tube (cannula) is placed into the joint space, an arthroscope is then inserted, and small surgical instruments are used for surgery. This type of surgery is less invasive and has fewer complications compared to open-joint surgery, but it is limited to certain specific conditions.

  • Open-joint Surgery. If your jaw pain is due to a structural problem in the joint, your doctor might recommend open-joint surgery (arthrotomy) to repair or replace the joint. However, this surgery comes with more risks and potential complications, so it’s typically only considered when other treatment options have failed.

  • Orthognathic Surgery. This type of surgery is performed to correct conditions of the facial bones, including the jaws and the teeth. It’s often done to improve function, but it may also be done to enhance appearance.

  • Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Surgery. For certain cases of TMJ disorders, surgery may be recommended. This can involve anything from arthrocentesis or arthroscopy (as mentioned above) to more invasive procedures to repair or replace the joint.

  • Corrective Jaw Surgery. This surgery is used to correct a wide range of minor and major skeletal and dental irregularities, including misalignment of jaws and teeth, which can improve chewing, speaking, and breathing.

The type of surgery recommended will depend on the specific cause of your jaw pain, your overall health, and how much pain or functional limitation you’re experiencing. Before making a decision, it’s important to discuss all the potential risks and benefits with your doctor

How to Prevent Jaw Pain?

  • Avoid Hard and Chewy Foods. Consuming hard or chewy foods regularly strains jaw muscles, leading to discomfort. This can result in sensations like jaw pain on the left side, which can be uncomfortable. Therefore, softer food options can help relieve jaw stress and possibly reduce the pain experienced on the left side of the jaw.
  • Relax Your Teeth at Night. People often unconsciously clench their teeth at night, resulting in persistent jaw pain on one side. Keeping your jaw relaxed, especially while sleeping, can help alleviate this problem.
  • Maintain Good Oral Hygiene. Poor oral health can lead to gum diseases such as periodontal disease, causing jaw pain. Regular brushing, flossing, and dentist visits can effectively prevent these dental issues.
  • Manage Stress Effectively. Stress is known to cause muscle tension, including those of the jaw. Relaxation techniques and physical therapy can help manage stress-induced jaw pain.

Don’t Ignore Jaw Pain, Let Discovery Dental Help You Today

It can be easy to overlook jaw pain or dismiss it as an unavoidable annoyance. But without proper attention and care, minor discomfort can evolve into long-lasting pain and other serious health issues. So the next time you find yourself questioning, why does my jaw hurt, remember that your body is signaling you that something isn’t quite right.

If you’re experiencing jaw pain, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with our team at Discovery Dental. Our dedicated professionals are here to assist you with all your dental needs. Remember, your oral health is an integral part of your overall well-being, and we are committed to ensuring you feel heard, cared for, and empowered throughout your journey with us.