Jaw pain, which sometimes radiates to other areas of the face, is a common concern. It can develop due to sinus infections, toothaches, issues with the blood vessels or nerves, or other conditions.
Most types of jaw pain result from temporomandibular joint disorder. In many cases, jaw pain does not need immediate medical attention, but sometimes, it can indicate a more serious underlying condition that needs treatment.
Anyone with severe, worsening, or persistent jaw pain should see a doctor for a diagnosis.
In this article, learn about the causes of jaw pain and the treatment options available.
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A person may experience jaw pain because of an injury or strain.
Jaw pain can result from physical injuries, damage to the nerves or blood vessels, infections, and several other causes.
Temporomandibular joint disorder is a cluster of conditions that affect the bones, joints, and muscles responsible for jaw movement. These conditions can cause pain and discomfort.
It is a common complaint and usually goes away without medical treatment, though some types may need treatment.
The symptoms tend to vary, but they may include:
pain in the face and jaw
clicking, popping, or grinding sounds
tooth grinding or clenching
difficulty chewing or opening the mouth
a burning sensation in the mouth
The sections below list some of the potential causes.
Jaw pain can result from:
A broken jaw: This can result from a fall or a blow to the face.
A dislocated jaw: This can result from opening the mouth too wide, such as when yawning.
Dental surgery: This can cause jaw pain because it can take time to recover from a procedure.
An injury or strain can cause muscle tension, resulting in jaw pain.
How can a person recognize a broken or dislocated jaw? Find out here.
Teeth grinding and clenching
Many people grind or clench their teeth while they sleep or at times of emotional stress. This is also known as bruxism. It can lead to significant tooth damage and jaw pain.
Learn more about bruxism and what to do about it here.
Osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis can cause the smooth interface between the joints, and eventually the bones themselves, to wear away. Bone pain can develop as a result of this.
Also, inflammatory conditions such as synovitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis cause inflammation in the joints. If these conditions affect the jaw bone joint, pain can develop.
Gum disease, cavities, tooth gaps, damaged teeth, and abscesses can all give rise to jaw pain.
This type of pain occurs when nerves become damaged and send pain signals to the brain. Symptoms can be continuous or only occur from time to time.
Examples of neuropathic pain include trigeminal neuralgia, postherpetic neuralgia, and cancer-related pain.
Sometimes, a problem with the vascular system can lead to jaw pain. Some examples of vascular conditions include temporal arteritis, or giant cell arteritis, and angina.
In temporal arteritis, the arteries on either side of the head — in the temple region — become inflamed, resulting in headaches and jaw pain. This condition may also put a person’s vision at risk.
Angina can develop when the heart does not get enough oxygen-rich blood, usually due to a coronary artery blockage. It can cause chest pain as well as jaw pain. A person who has angina is also at risk of experiencing a heart attack.
In rare cases, an infection called osteomyelitis can affect the jaw bone and associated tissues. This is a rare complication of dental surgery.
Tension headaches result from stress.
Research has found that some people with temporomandibular jaw pain also experience headaches, but there seems to be no link between the two conditions. For this reason, it is unclear whether or not there is a link between jaw pain and headache.
Some other conditions that may give rise to jaw and facial pain include:
salivary gland disorders
stress, fatigue, and a lack of sleep
autoimmune conditions, such as lupus
obstructive sleep apnea
some mental health conditions
The specific and accompanying symptoms of jaw and facial pain will vary depending on the cause.
They may include:
facial pain that worsens when the person uses their jaw
joint and muscle tenderness
a limited range of motion
jaw alignment issues
clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing the jaw
ringing in the ears
headaches with or without ear pain and pressure behind the eyes
pain that ranges from a dull ache to a sharp, stabbing sensation
tension or other headaches
nerve-type pain, such as a burning sensation
Anyone concerned about jaw pain should see a doctor, dentist, or oral surgeon.
Complications can arise if the person does not seek medical attention for their jaw pain. The complications will depend on the cause and other factors, including the treatment approach.
Some possible complications of jaw pain include:
loss of appetite due to pain or difficulty chewing and swallowing
To diagnose jaw pain, a doctor will ask the person about their symptoms and carry out a physical examination. They may also recommend a blood test, an imaging study, or both.
In some cases, the doctor might also suggest psychological and psychiatric screening.
If they believe that a specific condition is causing the pain, they may recommend tests specifically for that condition.
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Treatment will depend on the cause of the pain. Various options are available.
A doctor may prescribe the following medications:
antibiotics, if tests reveal a potential bacterial infection
oral, spray, or topical medications for pain relief
steroid injections, to decrease inflammation or swelling
antiviral therapy, to treat viral infections such as herpes zoster
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove any damaged bone or to rebuild the jaw.
Some physical therapies include:
using mouth protectors, such as a mouthguard
trying physical therapy
trying relaxation therapy
stretching, to increase muscle flexibility
checking posture, to prevent neck and back strain
Some dental treatment options include:
root canal treatment
heat or cold therapy
Some home and alternative remedies include:
adopting a soft diet, to prevent excessive jaw movement