No one wants to experience pain, but sudden pain can be even more challenging when you don’t know what is causing it. Whether you wake up with sudden jaw pain or it slowly builds during the day, you may assume that it is something dental-related. While times, localized jaw pain can develop due to specific dental concerns, there are other potential causes of jaw pain. Here we take a closer look at jaw pain, potential causes, and treatment options that can help you alleviate your pain.
What is jaw pain?
Jaw pain is a painful sensation or tenderness that occurs in the area of the jaw. This pain can also extend into the ears, neck, and facial regions. This pain can occur on one side or both, depending on what is causing the pain. Jaw pain can occur suddenly and be temporary or chronic depending on the underlying condition behind the pain.
Characteristics of jaw pain
Specific characteristics of jaw pain depend on the underlying cause of the pain. Some common factors can include:
- Generalized pain and tenderness felt in the jaw, face, neck, shoulders, or ears
- Increased pain when chewing or speaking
- Inability to open or close the jaw
- A popping sensation when moving the jaw
- A clicking sound when moving the jaw
- Problems biting or chewing
- Facial swelling
- Problems hearing
Anyone can develop jaw pain for a number of reasons but there are some factors that can contribute to an increased risk for jaw pain development. These can include:
- Poor dental hygiene
- An injury to the jaw
- History of teeth grinding or clenching
- Connective tissue diseases
- Arthritis which can affect the jaw
Causes of jaw pain
Identifying the cause of your jaw pain is not always easy. However, here we look at some of the most common causes of jaw pain.
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders
The temporomandibular joint is the specific joint that connects your skull to your jaw. In between these joints is a small disc that allows you to move your jaw smoothly. If damage occurs to the joint or the disc, it can cause pain that often originates that the joint location but can also extend into the corresponding ear. In addition, if TMJ is responsible for your jaw pain, you may also experience clicking or popping in the joint or may be unable to open or close your mouth.
Inflammation within your nasal cavity often occurs with a cold, allergies, or other underlying medical conditions. This inflammation can cause jaw pain that radiates from your maxillary sinuses located behind your cheeks. With this pain, you may also experience nasal mucus, congestion, facial pressure or swelling, and changes in your taste and smell.
Pain on one side of the jaw is often related to underlying dental concerns. Common contributing conditions to jaw pain can include cavities, tooth abscess, tooth decay, gum disease, and the eruption of a new tooth, such as a wisdom tooth. In addition, if you tend to grind or clench your teeth when sleeping or under stress, this repetitive pressure on the jaw can cause problems to the joint, contribute to TMJ, and damage your teeth. With the recent COVID pandemic, dentists have seen a 60% increase in nighttime teeth grinding.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition that occurs when there is abnormal pressure placed on the trigeminal nerve. This pressure can lead to severe pain, typically on one side of the jaw. In addition, this condition can cause facial twitching and shock-like sensations, making it painful to move your jaw. This pain often occurs in an episodic nature, with pain hitting suddenly and only lasting for a few seconds or minutes. However, others may experience pain that becomes more severe over time.
Osteomyelitis is an infection that develops when bacteria enter the bone. If you have severe dental concerns or have recently had dental surgery, this opens the door for bacterial entry. While not a common cause of jaw pain, if left untreated, osteomyelitis of the jawbone can lead to bone death. Other common symptoms of osteomyelitis include fever, swelling, redness, increased fatigue, numbness in the jaw, lips, or mouth, and trouble opening and closing your jaw.
While everyone thinks of chest pain as the main sign of a heart attack, the fact is many people experience left-side jaw pain and an early heart attack indicator. If you are also experiencing chest discomfort, shortness of breath, sweating, or nausea it could be a sign of a heart attack and you should seek medical attention immediately.
How to alleviate jaw pain
When you experience any jaw pain, it is essential to see your doctor or dentist in order to determine the underlying cause of the pain and receive the necessary treatment. However, until your doctor or dentist can determine the cause of your jaw pain, there are some things you can do to help reduce your pain and discomfort.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Apply moist heat or an ice pack to reduce swelling and pain
- Gently massage the affected area of the jaw and face
- Reduce stress levels through yoga or meditation to help reduce teeth grinding/clenching
- Eat soft foods until the pain subsides
Allow your jaw to rest. Avoid talking and chewing as much as possible
- Wear a mouthguard if teeth grinding is established
- Change your sleep position. How you sleep can put pressure on your jaw muscles
Should I be worried if my jaw hurts on one side?
In most cases, jaw pain is not necessarily an emergency. However, it should not be dismissed. If you experience jaw pain, call and make a general dentistry appointment or an appointment with your physician. The one exception to this is if you are experiencing left-sided jaw pain along with any of the other potential symptoms associated with a heart attack. If this is the case, seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY!
When to see a doctor or dentist
In general, jaw pain is not considered an emergency and can be brought up at your next doctor’s or dental appointment. However, if the pain is accompanied by other symptoms or continues to worsen, you may need to get in to see a medical or dental professional immediately. These additional signs and symptoms can include:
- Pain that makes jaw movement difficult or impossible
- Trouble eating and drinking
- Problems with swallowing or breathing
- Increased swelling
- A fever
- A sudden burst of salty liquid in your mouth that tastes and smells bad – a sign of a ruptured abscess
Don’t ignore jaw pain when it occurs
In the majority of cases, one-sided jaw pain is not an emergency and can wait until you can get in to see your regular doctor or dentist. However, if you experience additional signs and symptoms, it may be necessary to make an emergency visit.
At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we understand how frightening sudden jaw pain can be and we are here to help you determine the underlying cause and find relief. If you are experiencing jaw pain, request an appointment today and let us help take away the pain.