Top 7 Causes of Jaw Pain
Often, jaw pain can be caused by pain elsewhere, sometimes in the head. A regular headache usually doesn’t cause jaw pain; however, in some cases, a cluster headache can be felt in the jaw more noticeably than in the top of the head. A solid sign of a cluster headache is sharp, stabbing pain that comes on suddenly and lasts for about 30 minutes.
2. Tooth Pain
Jaw pain can often be a result of tooth pain, or pain in your teeth. If you experience jaw pain caused by dental issues, you might not clean your teeth often enough or you might have a cavity. It’s a good rule of thumb to visit the dentist if you have any pain in or near your mouth, but jaw pain specifically can be caused by dental issues.
We don’t often think about it, but it’s possible to harm the jaw just as we might harm or injure another part of the body. If you have broken, dislocated, or otherwise injured your jaw, you will experience jaw pain. Your jaw might swell, bleed, or become stiff. If this is the case, you need to see a doctor to make sure you don’t need treatment; treatment for a jaw injury can include relocation or even surgery, and it might require immobilization of your jaw as it heals.
4. Clenching and Grinding
Many people clench and grind their teeth — some don’t realize they do it. It can be a result of stress or frustration, but some people grind or clench their teeth as they sleep. Either way, it can lead to jaw pain and a host of other issues, such as broken teeth or receding gums, so make sure you seek help for this problem.
Sometimes, we simply use our jaw muscles too much, and it leads to jaw pain. Have you ever felt pain in your jaw when you’ve smiled more than usual? It sounds funny, but even having too much of a good time can cause jaw pain. If this is the case, the issue will subside on its own, usually in less than 24 hours.
6. Mouth injury
Jaw pain often appears after a sports injury or a car accident. This pain could be a sign that you've damaged your teeth, gums, facial bones, or joints. It's always best to seek medical care after a blow to the face or mouth. Your doctor or dentist can perform a full evaluation to check for signs of serious injury.
7. Dental problems
Many dental problems can cause jaw pain. Some of these dental issues are linked to poor oral health or a lack of dental care. However, you can also develop problems with your teeth or gums even if you maintain good dental hygiene.
Routine dental visits are an essential part of preventing dental problems. During each visit, your dentist checks your teeth and jaw alignment. These exams help diagnose dental problems early and prevent permanent damage to your teeth and gums.
Possible Health Conditions Related to Jaw Pain
1. TMJ Disorders
Also known as temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, TMJ disorders can be felt in the chewing muscles that connect your skull and your lower jaw. These disorders have a number of causes, including stress on the joints, issues with bite, grinding, bad posture, and arthritis. Other symptoms include headache, earache, a clicking or popping sound that occurs when the mouth opens or closes, or difficulty opening the mouth, closing the mouth, biting, or chewing. There are many different types of TMJ disorders, and your doctor can determine whether you have one and how to cope with it.
2. Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that causes mild sensations on the face or in the mouth to result in intense pain. Almost anything can trigger the pain when you have trigeminal neuralgia, from washing your face to brushing your teeth. This disorder affects the trigeminal nerve, and most people start out by having small attacks. However, this can become much worse over time, causing debilitating pain. It is important to see a doctor when the pain continues to occur and/or worsens over time. Treatment can involve medication or, if it has become severe, surgery.
3. Heart Attack
Most people know that a numbness, tingling feeling, or shooting pain in the left arm is a sign of a heart attack, but this sign presents most frequently in men. In women, jaw pain is one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack. Most women who have had heart attacks say they experienced a burning pain somewhere in the neck, jaw, stomach, throat, or back. This is an important symptom for all women to know about, so they can be aware of what their bodies tell them, especially if they have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity. If you experience jaw pain along with any of the other signs of a heart attack, you should seek medical help immediately.
Osteomyelitis is a type of bone infection that occurs when bacteria spreads to the bones from infected skin or muscles. Common risk factors for osteomyelitis include a weak immune system, injury, intravenous drug use, and diabetes. Bone pain is another symptom, and infection localized in or near the jaw causes jaw pain. With osteomyelitis, people might experience fever, chills, sweating, redness in the area of the pain, and potentially even an open wound. This issue requires treatment with antibiotics, and a doctor might need to perform surgery if the antibiotics don’t work or if the infection is very severe.
Jaw pain is sometimes linked to arthritis, a chronic health condition that causes joint inflammation and swelling. Arthritis can affect any joint in your body, including your jaw. Most people with arthritis are over 60, but some forms of arthritis affect younger adults. In rare cases, children or adolescents may develop arthritis. Treatment for arthritis focuses on relieving joint swelling and joint pain.
6. Tooth abscess
An abscessed tooth is a tooth that has become severely infected. If the infection isn't treated, it can spread to the soft tissues or the bone in your jaw. If this occurs, you may experience debilitating jaw pain.
Prompt treatment is essential to prevent tooth loss or serious medical complications. Antibiotics are often used to clear up an infected tooth, but in some cases, your dentist may need to perform surgery to remove some of the pus and infected tissue. If the infection isn't treated in time, your dentist may need to pull the tooth.
7. Sinus problems
Many sinus conditions cause swelling and inflammation inside your nasal passages. Without treatment, this inflammation can worsen. Some people with sinus problems experience pain that spreads into their jaw or ears.
Prescription medication can help reduce the swelling and clear up any underlying infection, but some sinus problems require surgery. If your doctor suspects that your jaw pain is linked to a sinus condition, he or she may refer you to a specialist. A physician that specializes in ear, nose, and throat (ENT) medicine can help you explore your treatment options.
8. Tension headaches
Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches, are a common cause of head and jaw pain. These headaches may feel like a band is being tightened around your forehead. Some people with tension headaches also report pain in their neck or shoulders. Tension headaches are often linked to stress, fatigue, or poor posture. If you have tension headaches, stress-management techniques can help you find relief.
9. Heart attack
Some people having a heart attack report pain in their upper shoulders, neck, and jaw. Women may be more likely than men to experiences these symptoms during a heart attack. If your jaw pain is accompanied by nausea, sweating, or shortness of breath, seek medical care right away.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Your Jaw Pain
- How long have you experienced jaw pain?
- Have you injured the area at all recently, perhaps by playing sports?
- Is your pain constant, stabbing, or burning, or does it feel different? How would you describe your pain?
- Do you have any additional symptoms, such as headaches, toothaches, earaches, fever, etc.?
- Do you find it hard to open and close your mouth?
- How long does your jaw pain usually last?
- Is your pain becoming more intense than it used to be?
Jaw Pain May Also Be Known as
- Mouth pain
- Chin pain
- National Library of Medicine. Cluster Headache. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000786.htm
- HealthLine. Broken or Dislocated Jaw. https://www.healthline.com/health/broken-or-dislocated-jaw
- National Library of Medicine. Bruxism. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001413.htm
- National Library of Medicine. TMJ Disorders. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001227.htm
- Mayo Clinic. Trigeminal Neuralgia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/trigeminal-neuralgia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353344
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_women_heart.htm
- National Library of Medicine. Osteomyelitis. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000437.htm
- WebMD. Why your jaw hurts. https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/why-your-jaw-hurts#1
- WebMD. Dental health and teeth grinding (bruxism). https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/teeth-grinding-bruxism#1
- Medical News Today. Everything you need to know about jaw pain. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317184.php
- Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis facts. https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/arthritis-statistics-facts.php
- Mayo Clinic. TMJ disorders: Symptoms & causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/symptoms-causes/syc-20350941
- Mayo Clinic. Tooth absceess. Symptoms & causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tooth-abscess/symptoms-causes/syc-20350901
- Mayo Clinic. Tooth absceess. Diagnosis & treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tooth-abscess/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350907
- Mayo Clinic. Chronic sinusitis: Symptoms & causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-sinusitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351661
- Mayo Clinic. Tension headache: Symptoms & causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tension-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20353977
- Healthline. Understanding jaw pain: How to find relief. https://www.healthline.com/health/jaw-pain#how-to-find-relief