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Updated on July 20, 2022

Jaw Pain on One Side: Causes & Treatments

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What Does Jaw Pain on One Side Mean?

Jaw pain on one side can be concerning. But in most cases, it’s not a sign of a serious condition.

Mild jaw pain is usually temporary and resolves on its own. But severe jaw pain can feel excruciating, making it difficult to talk, chew, and swallow. It can also cause pain and discomfort in other parts of the body. Severe jaw pain typically requires medical attention and treatment.

woman with jaw pain touching jaw with one hand over cold light background

What Causes Jaw Pain on One Side? 

People can experience one-sided jaw pain for a variety of reasons, some of which are common and others rare.

Common causes include:

1. TMJ Disorders

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) works like a sliding hinge on either side of the jaw and connects the skull (specifically your temporal bone) and jawbone (your mandible bone).

People with TMJ disorders often experience pain or tenderness in the jaw and surrounding muscles. A TMJ disorder can also cause other symptoms like jaw locking and a grinding sensation or clicking sound when using the jaw. It can also cause ear pain.

Treatments include:

  • Pain and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Tricyclic antidepressants in low doses
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Mouth guards
  • Physical therapy
  • Botox or corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery

2. Sinusitis

Sinusitis is a type of infection in the tissues lining the sinus or nasal cavities. It can cause pain in the jaw or face and other symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Trouble smelling or tasting

Treatments include:

  • Nasal spray
  • Antibiotics
  • Pain relievers
  • Surgery to remove an infection, diseased tissues, or obstruction.

3. Dental Problems

Minor to severe dental issues can cause jaw pain on one side. Examples include:

Many people with dental problems experience other symptoms, such as bleeding or swollen gums, tooth sensitivity, severe tooth pain, and bad breath.

In most cases, a dental professional may need to perform deep cleaning or dental surgery to treat these problems. You may also need to take antibiotics and take increased oral health measures.

Clenching the jaw, overusing the jaw muscles, or an overactive jaw muscle can also cause pain. But in these cases, jaw pain can occur on one or both sides.

4. Injury

Injuries to the jaw, such as a jaw dislocation or jaw fracture, can cause sudden pain on the impacted side.

Minor jaw injuries may heal without specific treatment. But you may only be able to have liquid or soft foods while the jaw heals.

More serious jaw injuries require surgery to:

  • Move dislocated jaws back into place
  • Place metal plates in the damaged bone to help it heal
  • Wire the jaws shut to keep damaged bones in place during the healing process

Additional causes include:

Trigeminal Nerve Disorders

Trigeminal nerve disorders often cause facial spasms and painful sensations that feel like an electric shock or searing pain.

Treatments include:

  • Antispasmodic or anticonvulsant medications
  • Botox injections
  • Surgery to remove, damage, or destroy the trigeminal nerve and its root

Salivary Gland Infections

The parotid gland produces saliva. It is located on each side of your upper jaw. In cases of parotitis (infection of the parotid gland), pain and swelling occur. 

Treatments include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Drainage of the salivary duct
  • Possible removal of stones that may be causing an obstruction
  • Warm compresses to the area
  • Sialogogus, which promote secretion of saliva (this includes sour foods such as lemon wedges)

Cysts and Tumors 

Though relatively rare, abnormal lesions or growths such as cysts and tumors can grow in the jawbone or surrounding tissues. Cysts and tumors feel like hard or squishy lumps.

The best treatment for cysts and tumors depends on the type, stage of growth, and symptoms. But many people undergo surgery or a combination of surgery and therapy.

Heart Attack

Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or blocked. In some cases, a heart attack can cause a painful jaw on one or both sides, especially in women. 

Heart attacks require emergency medical treatment. 

Seek emergency treatment or call 911 if jaw pain is accompanied by:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, light-headedness, or vomiting
  • Pain or discomfort in other body parts, especially the arms and shoulders

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a bacterial bone infection that tends to develop in the lower jaw. People with osteomyelitis often experience fever and inflammation in addition to jaw pain.  

To treat osteomyelitis, you will need to take antibiotics, often through an IV. Many people also undergo surgery to remove infected or dead portions of bone. 

Remedies for Mild Jaw Pain on One Side 

At-home remedies can help reduce mild jaw pain. Common remedies include:

  • Applying heat, or ice or cold compresses to the jaw for a few minutes several times daily to relieve pain (temporarily)
  • OTC pain and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Exercises that stretch and strengthen jaw muscles
  • Massaging the jaw 
  • Avoiding repetitive jaw motions like chewing gum
  • Eating soft foods that are bite-sized or cut into small pieces
  • Eating or drinking cool or cold foods
  • Practicing muscle relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing
  • Reducing or managing stress

When to See a Medical Professional for Jaw Pain

Talk to a dentist or healthcare provider if your jaw pain doesn’t go away after a few days, or if you experience:

  • Facial pain or swelling that doesn’t improve after a few days
  • Worsening pain
  • Trouble opening or closing the mouth or chewing
  • A bad taste in the mouth
  • Sensitive, swollen, red, or bleeding gums

Seek emergency medical attention or call 911 if you have:

  • A high fever
  • Extreme pain or neck stiffness
  • Vision changes
  • Severe facial swelling 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Redness or swelling around the eyes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe bleeding 
  • Intense pain that goes away, followed by a burst of salty liquid that smells or tastes bad
  • Pain in the arms or shoulders
  • Light-headedness or confusion
  • New, sudden pain

Diagnosing Jaw Pain

To diagnose the underlying cause of jaw pain, a dentist may:

  • Ask about your symptoms
  • Examine the jaw
  • Listen to and feel the jaw while the mouth closes and opens
  • Take X-rays or CT or MRI scans of the jaw, face, and/or neck
  • Run blood tests
  • Take a swab or cultures from the nose and send them away for testing

Medical Treatments for Jaw Pain

A doctor may advise you to change some habits or use at-home remedies to manage jaw pain.

Medical treatments for jaw pain include:

  • Medications to reduce or manage pain or inflammation
  • Surgery
  • Antibiotics
  • Injections, such as Botox or corticosteroid injections
  • Treatments from a physical therapist or massage therapist
  • Night guards

Summary

Mild or temporary jaw pain often resolves on its own within a few days. It isn’t typically acause for immediate concern, and is often attributed to:

  • TMJ disorders
  • Sinus inflammation 
  • Dental or oral health conditions like an abscessed tooth, injuries, teeth grinding, or developing wisdom teeth 

Talk to your dentist about persistent jaw pain, pain that goes away and comes back, or pain that is accompanied by other symptoms.

Severe jaw pain, or pain that interferes with eating, drinking, or talking, requires medical attention. 

Seek emergency help or call 911 if you experience:

  • Severe pain or facial swelling
  • Problems breathing or swallowing
  • Light-headedness or loss of consciousness
  • Pain in the arms or shoulders
  • Chest pain or discomfort
10 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 20, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. American Heart Association “Warning signs of a heart attack.” American Heart Association.
  2. American Heart Association “What is heart attack?” American Heart Association.
  3. Cleveland Clinic “Broken or dislocated jaw.” Cleveland Clinic.
  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine “Sinusitis.” Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  5. Mayo Clinic “Jaw tumors and cysts.” Mayo Clinic.
  6. Mayo Clinic “Osteomyelitis.” Mayo Clinic.
  7. Mayo Clinic “Periodontitis.” Mayo Clinic.
  8. Mayo Clinic “TMJ disorders.” Mayo Clinic.
  9. Mayo Clinic “Trigeminal neuralgia.” Mayo Clinic.
  10. Mouth Healthy “Top 10 dental symptoms.” Mouth Healthy.
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