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

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Pain in the jaw can signal a number of different dental issues such as toothache, TMJ Disorder, or even more severe conditions. Our Winnipeg dentists reveal the possible causes of jaw pain and what you can do to alleviate some of the discomfort.

What causes jaw pain?

Jaw pain can indicate a dental issue such as a toothache, TMJ Disorder, or perhaps a more serious condition.

TMJ Disorders

One of the most common causes of jaw pain is TMJ Disorder. The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to the temporal bones in your skull (located just below your temple, in front of your ear). This hinge plays a large role in your everyday life, allowing you to eat, breath, and talk.

TMJ Disorders occur when there is an issue with your facial and jaw muscles. If the disorder advances to a severe state after you start to experience pain in this area, you may eventually be unable to move the joint.

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

  • Injury to the jaw
  • Misalignment of the jaw
  • Inflammation in the muscles surrounding your jaw
  • Certain conditions or illnesses such as arthritis

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

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

If you suspect a problem with your TMJ, see your dentist so he or she can recommend treatment or exercises. Sometimes, prescription drugs or surgery may be required 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:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruises
  • Loose or missing teeth

Depending on the injury, you may need to see your dentist if the pain persists, 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:

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

These problems should be addressed as fast 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 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 emanating into 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, this condition can lead to blood flow to the jaw being cut off resulting in damage to the bone tissue if left untreated. 

How can I get rid of jaw pain?

At-Home Care

  • Avoid caffeine (which can potentially contribute to muscle tension)
  • 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.
  • Apply a warm, wet washcloth or ice pack covered in cloth to your jaw (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off)

Dental Care

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

At All Smiles 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.

Is your new or recurring jaw pain interfering with your daily life? Contact us right away so we can diagnose and treat the causes of your pain.

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