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

Jaw pain can indicate a dental issue such as a toothache, TMJ Disorder, or perhaps a more serious condition. In this post, our Toronto dentists explain the possible causes of jaw pain and what to do with those sore joints.

What causes jaw pain?

Jaw pain can be caused by a dental problem such as a toothache, TMJ disorder, or 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 of 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 talk, breathe and eat.

When your facial and jaw muscles aren't working properly, TMJ disorders can develop. You may eventually lose the ability to move the joint if the disorder worsens to a point where it is painful in this area.

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

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

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

  • Pain or ache around your jaw, face or ears
  • Constant headaches
  • Locking or popping in your jaw
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems
  • Ringing in 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 receive many routine vaccines as children that have thankfully eliminated diseases, it is still possible to contract diseases that 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

If the pain doesn't go away, if you have missing teeth, if you have trouble chewing, opening and closing your mouth, or if you have missing teeth depending on the injury, you may need to see your dentist. In addition to dental care, if required, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen may be helpful.

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 issues should be addressed as soon as possible, and fractured teeth are dental emergencies that require immediate attention from your dentist. Until then, keep the hurting tooth clean and rinse with warm water.

Cysts or Tumors

Odontogenic cysts or tumours, which are typically not cancerous, can quickly start to affect your teeth. To get rid of them, surgery might be necessary.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are one of the most painful types of headaches, causing pain around or behind one eye, with pain radiating to the jaw.

Osteomyelitis

This condition, which is an infection in the bone, can affect your mandible (lower jaw). If left untreated, anaerobic osteomyelitis, as it is also known, can sever the blood supply to your jaw and harm bone tissue.

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 with 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.

Our dentists at Bay Street Dental Associates will talk with you about your symptoms, perform a thorough oral examination, explain potential treatment options, and develop a unique 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.

If you are experiencing jaw pain, contact our Toronto dentists to book an appointment today. We might even be able to provide you with a referral.

Nervous about visiting the dentist? We can help.

Our dentists can take the stress out of your next appointment with a range of sleep and sedation dentistry options.

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