What Jaw Pain Means: What Causes It and How to Treat It

Jaw pain may be a sign of a dental issue such as TMJ Disorder, a toothache, or perhaps a more serious condition. Today, our Winnipeg dentists explain potential causes of jaw pain and what you can do about those sore joints. 

What causes jaw pain?

A toothache, TMJ Disorder or other serious conditions may cause jaw pain. This is why it's important to have any dental issues examined and treated early. 

TMJ Disorders

TMJ Disorder is one of the most common causes of jaw pain. Your jaw is connected to the temporal bones of your skull (located just below your temple, in front of your ear) via your temporomandibular joint. This hinge plays an integral role in your daily life, allowing you to eat, breathe and speak. When there is an issue with the facial and jaw muscles, TMJ Disorders can occur. If you develop a severe form of the disorder after you begin to experience pain in this area, you may eventually be unable to move the joint. 

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

  • Jaw injury
  • Misalignment of the jaw 
  • Inflammation in muscles surrounding your jaw
  • Certain conditions or illnesses such as arthritis. 

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

  • Locking or popping in your jaw
  • Pain or ache in your jaw, face or ears
  • Constant headaches 
  • Dizziness 
  • Ringing in ears 
  • Vision problems 

Do you suspect a problem with your TMJ? Book an appointment with your dentist so he or she can recommend exercises. Sometimes, prescription drugs or surgery may be needed to address the issue. 

Diseases

Though we take many routine vaccines in childhood that have fortunately gotten rid of diseases, it’s still possible to get diseases that can cause jaw pain and other symptoms.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause your jaw muscles to stiffen or feel tight. This serious condition can result in spending weeks in hospital.

Trauma

Just like other bones in your body, your jaw can become fractured or dislocated. After taking a blow to the jaw, you may experience:

  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Bruises
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Depending on the injury, you may need to see your dentist if the pain doesn’t go away, you are missing teeth or you’re unable to chew or open and close your mouth. Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen may help, in addition to dental treatment if necessary.

Dental Issues

A variety of dental issues can lead to a sore jaw. These can include:

  • Fractured or crowded teeth
  • Toothache (typically with an abscess or cavity as the underlying cause)
  • Teeth grinding
  • Gum disease (which can cause your jaw bone to become damaged)
  • Wisdom teeth erupting
  • Misaligned teeth

These problems should be addressed as soon as possible, and fractured teeth are dental emergencies, so you should see your dentist right away. Until then, keep the tooth that hurts clean and try rinsing with warm water.

Cysts or Tumors

Not typically cancerous, odontogenic cysts or tumors can quickly begin to impact your teeth. Surgery may be required to remove them.

Cluster Headaches

One of the most painful types of headache, cluster headaches can result in pain around or behind one eye, with pain radiating to reach the jaw.

Osteomyelitis

A type of infection that occurs in the bone, this condition can impact your mandible (lower jaw). Referred to as anaerobic osteomyelitis, it can cut off blood supply to your jaw and damage bone tissue if left untreated.

How can I get rid of jaw pain?

At-Home Care

  • Apply a warm, wet washcloth or ice pack covered in cloth to your jaw (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off)
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Rub the affected joint. Massage the joint using your fingers, pressing the sore areas of your jaw and moving to the side of your neck.
  • Avoid caffeine (which can potentially contribute to muscle tension)

Dental Care

If your jaw pain persists after at-home remedies, make an appointment with your dentist.

At Fort Richmond Dental Centre, our dentists will discuss your symptoms with you, complete a comprehensive oral examination, explain possible treatment options, and develop a custom treatment plan that may include a mouthguard or other measures depending on your needs. 

In rare cases, oral surgery for TMJ Disorder may be recommended to correct the problem for those with severe pain that suffer from structural problems in their jaw and haven’t found relief with other remedies or treatments.

Are you experiencing jaw pain? Contact our Winnipeg dentists to schedule an appointment today.

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