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Updated on July 21, 2022

Jaw Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

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Your jaw is an important joint that performs many functions. It helps you bite, chew, swallow, talk, smile, and even laugh. Jaw pain can interfere with any or all of these daily activities.

Many people suffer from jaw pain. The upper jaw (maxilla), the lower jaw (mandible), and especially the jaw joint itself, are all places you might experience pain.

frowning young woman with hand on her temple

What Causes Jaw Pain?

There are several causes of jaw pain, and they may overlap. For example, a habit of jaw clenching as a response to stress might increase your pain from an existing injury.

Jaw pain may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the cause, and treatment is different for everyone.

Possible causes of jaw pain include:

Injury

An acute injury to your jaw, which commonly occurs in contact sports , can cause pain. Bruising or bleeding may accompany these types of injuries.

Infection

An infected tooth may cause or contribute to jaw pain. Severe infections may spread from a tooth to the surrounding bone. If you suspect an infection is the culprit of your jaw pain contact your doctor or dentist for proper treatment.

Bruxism (Teeth Grinding) and Jaw Clenching

If you have a habit of grinding your teeth (bruxism) or clenching your jaw, you may begin to experience jaw pain at some point.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMDs)

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the jaw joint where your lower jaw meets the temporal bone on either side of your skull.

The TMJ is one of the most important joints in your body. TMJ pain can affect your daily life by making regular activities difficult or painful.

TMJ disorders are common. They may include other symptoms in addition to jaw pain, such as clicking or popping sounds or difficulty opening the mouth.

TMDs often have no obvious cause, but they usually subside on their own. In some cases, however, professional treatment is necessary.

A TMD diagnosis may include arthritis of the jaw joint, malocclusion (an improper bite), or a “slipped disc” in the TMJ.

What Other Symptoms Might Accompany Jaw Pain?

Depending on the underlying cause, jaw pain may be accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • Pain that spreads to other parts of your head, neck, and/or shoulders
  • Limited ability to open your mouth or stretch your jaw
  • Your jaw “locking” in place, whether open or closed
  • Clicking, popping, or grinding sounds when opening or closing your mouth
  • Problems with your bite (the way your upper and lower teeth fit together)
  • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Swelling
  • Bruising

You may also experience psychological symptoms, such as stress or anxiety, that might result in digestive issues, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness.

Home Remedies & Lifestyle Changes for Jaw Pain 

There are some measures you can take at home to make things easier on your jaw.

Primarily, your doctor or dentist may recommend the following as a first course of treatment:

  • Eating soft foods (minimal chewing)
  • Performing jaw exercises to improve strength and flexibility
  • Applying heat and cold to your jaw
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication
  • Quitting habits, such as chewing gum or crunchy foods or clenching your jaw, that worsen pain

Experts generally recommend trying simple, conservative treatments before moving on to advanced procedures or surgeries. The measures above are a good place to start.

But if your pain persists or worsens, contact your doctor or dentist immediately.

When to See Your Dentist for Jaw Pain 

If you’re concerned that your jaw pain is a result of a recent injury or infection, consult your doctor or dentist. A professional will be able to determine the root cause of your pain, rather than simply helping you manage symptoms.

Not all jaw pain can be traced to a specific injury or other root cause. TMD symptoms often surface without a clear cause, but they also often resolve on their own without treatment.

But if you’re experiencing persistent (chronic) jaw pain or having trouble chewing or talking, visit your doctor or dentist.

How is Jaw Pain Diagnosed?

In order to provide a diagnosis, your doctor or dentist will ask you about any other symptoms you have. They may take X-rays of your jaw and the surrounding area.

They may also test how your pain responds to certain kinds of pressure or stimulation.

Your doctor or dentist may make multiple diagnoses. For example, arthralgia (joint pain) in the TMJ is most often accompanied by myalgia (muscle pain).

Sometimes people with TMD symptoms will also have joint disorders or even joint disease (arthritis). MRI or CT scans can confirm the diagnosis in these cases.

Jaw Pain Treatment

Jaw pain treatment will depend on its underlying cause. It will also depend on how the pain responds to other treatments.

If simple measures (like eating soft food) aren’t enough to alleviate your jaw pain, your doctor or dentist may recommend more intensive treatments.

Some of these more advanced, but still non-invasive, treatments include:

  • Manual therapy — where a therapist gently massages and stretches the muscles and soft tissues of the afflicted area
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — with a focus on helping you stop clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth
  • Medication — from over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to stronger prescription drugs
  • Night guards or occlusal splints — which are devices worn at night to reduce bruxism (teeth grinding)

Your doctor or dentist might also consider complementary treatments, such as acupuncture. These are non-mainstream, professional treatments that are done alongside more conventional ones.

In general, you’ll want to start with simpler, less-intensive treatments. If these fail to reduce or eliminate your jaw pain, then more advanced treatments may be helpful.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to restore normal jaw function. A surgeon may remove tissue from the jaw, or put in implants to replace them.

For most TMDs, surgery isn’t recommended. Experts generally consider surgery to be a last resort for when other, more conservative treatments have failed.

If you’ve suffered a severe injury, however, surgery may be necessary.

Learn as you can about your diagnosis. Before starting treatment, ask your doctor or dentist about your options and their associated risks.

6 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 21, 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. Jaw Pain.” American Dental Association.
  2. Mark, Anita M. “Why does my jaw hurt?Journal of the American Dental Association, vol. 150,12 : 1066. doi: 10.1016/j.adaj.2019.07.034
  3. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders.” Cleveland Clinic.
  4. TMJ disorders.” Mayo Clinic.
  5. Sharma, Shalender et al. “Etiological factors of temporomandibular joint disorders.” National journal of maxillofacial surgery vol. 2,2 : 116-9. doi:10.4103/0975-5950.94463
  6. Kuć, Joanna, et. al. “Smiling, Yawning, Jaw Functional Limitations and Oral Behaviors With Respect to General Health Status in Patients With Temporomandibular Disorder—Myofascial Pain With Referral.” Frontiers in Neurology, vol. 12 . doi:10.3389/fneur.2021.646293
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