Jaw pain is relatively common. Though it can be caused by many different conditions, jaw pain is typically diagnosed as either myofascial pain syndrome or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD). When the cause of jaw pain is myofascial trigger points, conservative treatment methods are typically effective at quickly relieving symptoms, with low risk for adverse effects.
When the cause of your jaw pain is TMJD, however, you should be aware that there are some risks associated with medicating and surgery. Because each case of TMJD presents differently, you should carefully monitor your symptoms so that you can determine how to proceed in treating them.
When should I be concerned about jaw pain?
What to do about jaw pain? In this article, you will read all about the different signs, the process of treatment & tips on how to relieve the symptoms
Jaw pain is an uncomfortable condition that can greatly affect your ability to speak or eat.
- Sometimes it even affects the entire face.
- This pain is not always easy to classify:
There are numerous possible causes that can affect the ears or teeth in addition to the jaw.
In the following text, you will not only read more about the different types & causes, but also learn what helps with jaw pain.
What causes jaw pain?
The jaw joint is involved in many different activities: For example, chewing, biting, speaking, or even grinding your teeth.
Jaw pain can have many causes – pay close attention to the symptoms & nature of the discomfort.
Your jaw is in constant use throughout the day.
This often makes it difficult to determine the exact causes of jaw pain. These can be related (besides the jaw itself) to ailments in other parts of the body, for example:
- the ears & the entire head
- with teeth & gums (e.g., periodontal disease)
- The muscles around the mouth and neck
Pain in the temporomandibular joint can occur suddenly or have existed for some time. Symptoms do not always persist constantly. The duration and intensity of symptoms or pain can sometimes vary greatly.
That is why it is recommended to consult a doctor for a correct diagnosis – he can help you far better than any guide on the Internet and will probably first ask you about the pain itself:
The most common types of jaw pain
- Single-sided jaw pain: is often related to pain in the teeth, head or ears
- Jaw pain on chewing (pressure pain): can often be attributed to problems with the jaw joint or muscles
- Jaw pain in the area of the ears: Triggers are usually incorrect loading of the jaw, tension of the masticatory muscles or diseases of the teeth
- Pain in the jaw when opening the mouth – often in conjunction with a sharp & loud jaw cracking.
Tip: The best person to help you differentiate the pain is a doctor! This is also helpful to you in the treatment of jaw pain.
Causes of jaw pain
In very many cases, anatomical misalignments or injury to the temporomandibular joint are triggers of jaw pain.
Even doctors sometimes have a hard time determining the exact causes of jaw pain.
But other causes can also be behind it. You can find the most common triggers of jaw pain here:
Jaw joint disorders
By far the most common cause of jaw pain is temporomandibular joint disorders. It affects an average of 12 percent of all people
In technical language, this disorder is called “temporomandibular dysfunction” (TMD) and specifically affects the joint between the upper and lower jaws.
This joint is very complex and enormously important: with its help, the lower jaw can be moved forward, backward and sideways.
- Often, patients report a “popping” or clicking sensation in the jaw in connection with temporomandibular joint problems.
- But TMD also affects the muscles in the mouth that are responsible for chewing movements.
Untreated, the symptoms can gradually worsen.
A misalignment of the teeth can take very different forms:
This includes, for example, the overbite, the forebite or also various crowding (where the teeth do not have enough space in the mouth).
As a rule, doctors advise braces before jaw pain can even develop.
In many cases, the jaw is also affected by the malposition. It is not uncommon for this to result in various symptoms such as increased pain sensitivity due to sensitive teeth, pain in or around the ear, constant facial pain or discomfort when chewing.
Interesting: In very many forms of malocclusion, braces can iron out the problem. In particularly complex cases, however, only surgery can help.
The appearance of wisdom teeth is very often associated with complications:
Most often, wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 25 years.
Wisdom teeth often cause problems & cause sudden pain in the jaw.
This development is particularly problematic when the wisdom teeth do not grow out normally. So it can happen that
- the wisdom teeth cannot erupt properly due to lack of space
- or grow incorrectly and then, for example, press against other teeth or the mouth wall.
The result is gingivitis, which causes swelling and acute pain.
Even after removal, it may take a little time for the inflammation to subside.
Reading tip: Here you can learn more about the procedure & the risks of wisdom tooth surgery.
Naturally, jaw pain can also occur once without immediately pointing to a serious cause.
So it can be unpleasant after treatments at the dentist in the first time. However, this pain usually subsides after a short time.
We think that tooth decay specifically affects only the teeth. But in fact, tooth decay can also cause jaw pain.
- An abscess (pus blister in the mouth) occurs, for example, when the inside of the tooth or the nerve becomes inflamed.
- The culprit is often an untreated carious tooth. The infection can spread through the roots (tooth root inflammation) to the bone tissue.
Another factor is gum disease and periodontitis. The triggers are often poor oral health, hormonal fluctuations, diabetes or smoking. Again, pain can radiate to the jaw.
Tip: Take care with a thorough dental hygiene. Hilfrei thereby is a suitable brush. The best models there’s here: Electric toothbrushes in the test.
Tooth grinding (bruxism)
Many people tend to grind their teeth at night and do not even know about it themselves. This can damage the teeth and additionally lead to jaw pain.
Experts agree: Teeth grinding occurs due to a combination of physical, psychological and genetic factors.
Among the most common triggers are stress or anxiety. However, certain diseases such as Parkinson’s or side effects of medications are also possible causes.
In the worst case, teeth grinding can wear away the enamel and expose the dentin (tooth bone)
- So it comes to a strong sensitivity at the tooth, toothache and temporomandibular joint disorders.
Many patients are helped in this case a bite splint, which separates the teeth. If the teeth grinding is due to anxiety or stress, but also psychotherapy or relaxation exercises can be helpful.
Sometimes, however, the causes of pain in the jaw area are also harmless: they may simply be related to a cold. In this case, an infection of the respiratory tract occurs due to transmitted viruses.
Nothing is easier to transmit: pathogens spread in the air through coughing, sneezing and talking.
Who has no strong immune system or just health anyway already sags, runs the risk of infection. A cold includes symptoms such as coughing, hoarseness, fever or headache.
Sometimes, however, the flu-like infection also affects the ears, sinuses or respiratory tract. In this case, jaw pain may also be present.
Other causes of jaw pain
- Arthritis: This includes, for example, osteoarthritis or osteoarthritis. In these chronic joint diseases, there is wear and tear on the surface of the bone.
- Sinus problems: Especially the sinuses are affected. Often sinus problems occur together with a cold.
- Neuropathic pain: In this form of pain, there is a disturbance in the nerves, with pain signals being sent to the brain.
- Vascular pain: In this, the blood supply to a part of the body is disturbed in such a way that pain occurs.
- Neurovascular pain: This form of pain can also be explained by a disease of the nerves and blood vessels. For example, migraines or cluster headaches are related to this.
- Other: Often, however, the causes are also related to lifestyle. Here, for example, emotional stress, sleep disorders, a lack of certain nutrients or other mental problems are decisive.
What to do for jaw pain?
The treatment is, of course, strongly related to the causes.
- That’s why, when clarifying jaw pain, a doctor should also be primarily interested in the triggers.
- If this point is clarified, it goes to treat the jaw pain. This offers very different approaches.
But that’s not surprising, because jaw pain resulting from a flu-like infection can be treated just differently than chronic tension caused by nighttime teeth grinding.
To do this, your doctor will run a series of tests.
Diagnosis of jaw pain
Because there are so many different causes that can be related to jaw pain, an accurate diagnosis is essential.
However, in order to make a diagnosis, your doctor will need to start in several places. To do this, he performs various tests – I have listed the most common ones here:
The following treatment steps will help you learn more about the causes of jaw pain.
- Physical examinations (including nerves, neck bones, jaw, mouth)
- Complete medical and pain history
- Various laboratory tests (e.g., blood test)
- Imaging procedures such as X-ray or MRI
- Psychological screening
If your doctor suspects the pain is related to a specific medical condition, additional tests may also be needed.
Diagnosing jaw pain can sometimes be a lengthy process – it’s best to observe the symptoms very closely.
Home remedies for jaw pain
Sometimes diffuse jaw pain disappears again by itself. Therefore, it is often not necessary to go to the doctor, but you can also help yourself.
However, a well-tried home remedy can be very useful.
Relaxation and meditation especially help to better tolerate the painful component of jaw disorders. One of the best books for this:
Handbook of Meditation by neural scientist & practitioner John Yates.
Handbook of Meditation is one of the best books on the subject.
It doesn’t really depend on the type of relaxation method – of course, exercise or an extended nap can also relieve jaw pain.
In short: Whether you prefer to do yoga, prefer autogenic training or meditation. Even deep, slow breathing increases relaxation and improves pain relief.
Very soft or pureed foods allow the TMJ to rest. Soups, stews or very softly cooked pasta are therefore excellent.
If the jaw pain is particularly bad right now, you should resort to this.
Tip: Avoid hard, crunchy or chewy foods at all costs. Also, make sure not to open your mouth too wide when eating.
You can find a few recipes here: Eating after wisdom tooth surgery.
Doing nothing and waiting is not always the best medicine: slow, gentle movements can help support jaw mobility and healing
It’s best to talk to a physical therapist about this. He or she can recommend suitable exercises for your specific case.
Just as you’re taking a hearty bite of breakfast bread, it happens:
You feel a sharp pain in your jaw joint and suddenly you can’t open your mouth too wide.
It’s best to head to your doctor right away. What can help you in the meantime:
Heat or cold
Place an ice pack in a cloth on your face; this helps especially with swelling and a fat cheek.
The tips in this section should only be taken as help in an emergency and permanent pain should always be treated.
In some cases, heat can also help to relax the muscles:
- To do this, you can hold a rag under warm water and then place it on the painful area.
- The heat will soothe the overactive jaw joint and help with the pain.
Tip:Be sure to always wrap the hot or cold bag with a cloth, otherwise you may burn your skin.
In acute cases, a simple painkiller, which you can get at the pharmacy and probably everyone stocks in their medicine cabinet, can prevent the most severe pain.
In addition, thanks to anti-inflammatory ingredients, these can prevent the inflammation from progressing.
But if you are on your way to the doctor anyway, you should – if possible – refrain from doing so, so as not to complicate the diagnosis.
In some cases, a simple massage of the painful area may help best.
Massage the temporomandibular joint with two fingers at the point in front of the ear where the temporomandibular joints meet.
- To do this, stick to circular motions.
- Repeat the massage even with your mouth open.
Should the pain worsen, then immediately stop the massage!
Professional treatment for jaw pain
Most people prefer minimally invasive treatment (i.e., without surgery) in the first instance to take care of their jaw pain
However, if you still have pain afterward, you should talk to your orthodontist about alternatives.
Mouthguards & Bite splints
This treatment method is especially recommended if your jaw pain is caused by teeth grinding.
Often bite splints are used. It is a plastic mouthguard that can be put over the upper or lower teeth.
In some cases, your dentist can fit this perfectly to your teeth. But there are also inexpensive alternatives available at pharmacies.
Particularly if patients have been suffering from jaw pain for a very long time and there is no improvement in sight, it is also advisable to accept major interventions.
For example, this includes an injection: usually this involves a minimally invasive procedure using small needles.
- A fluid is used to flush around the joint to remove inflammatory debris.
- Expect to undergo this procedure more than once.
Not pleasant, but helpful in many cases.
As mentioned earlier, braces can help with jaw misalignment.
If you see your dentist regularly, he or she should have suggested such treatment anyway, before jaw pain even develops.
If this has not happened, however, the use of braces can help to eliminate the cause. There are also special braces for adults. Expect 1-2 years of treatment time.
More info on the procedure & the costs there’s in the guide to braces.
Operative measures are necessary only in very rare cases.
Most often, these are considered in patients with severe pain or when the pain is due to a complex case of jaw dysfunction.
When other methods no longer help, however, surgery may also be a good decision. When doing so, be sure to ask your doctor about the possible risks.
I hope this guide to jaw pain has been helpful to you.
- It is not always necessary to panic right away when experiencing (temporary) jaw pain.
- However, with some symptoms, they should be alert and closely monitor the development.
- Long-lasting jaw pain
- Irregular jaw movements
- Jaw joints that make noise when moved
- Jaw pain associated with headaches or earaches
- Severe dental problems that also indicate jaw dysfunction (worn or broken teeth)
In general, it is recommended to pay attention to thorough dental hygiene. This costs only a few minutes of time and saves you in the long run expensive & unpleasant visits to the dentist.
By practicing thorough and careful oral hygiene, you can do a lot yourself to prevent tooth decay & unpleasant treatments at the dentist.
- Oral-B & sonic toothbrushes usually clean better than brushing by hand and can compensate for faulty technique.
- The use of dental floss or interdental brushes removes stinky bacteria between the teeth. An even more convenient alternative is oral irrigators.
- Complement your dental care with the right toothpaste, antibacterial mouthwashes & home remedies such as coconut oil or birch sugar.
I hope this article was helpful to you. Please also recommend this page to friends & acquaintances to help as many people as possible.