Jaw pain is a seriously debilitating oral health condition because it can hinder your speaking and eating ability to a great extent if the pain is significant enough. Jaw pain can have numerous causes and identifying a particular reason for it can be a complicated task. Any problem in the sinuses, the ears, or the teeth and jaw itself can be the leading cause. Most jaw pains are because of an injury at the jaw itself but other causes have also been identified.
What can lead to jaw pain?
TMD is the most commonly identified cause of jaw pain that has affected about 10 million Americans. TMD can be caused by muscular pain in the jaw, injury to the jaw, excess stimulation of those muscles, displacement of the disk cushioning jaw movement, or arthritis in the protective disk. If TMD is caused by injury or damage to the jaw muscle, it can because you grind your teeth (check mouth guards to prevent teeth grinding), clench your jaw involuntarily, or suffered trauma like being hit by a ball while playing.
The sinuses are the hollow, air-filled cavities that connect various places in and around your jaw. Infected sinuses can be a cause of jaw pain. If excessive mucus, resulting from a viral or bacterial infection, collects, it can put pain-inducing pressure on the jaw joint.
Tooth infections can also be the cause of jaw pain. Dental abscesses, whereby the tooth cavity fills with pus and pathogens, can cause intense and radiating pain in the jaw.
A heart attack can cause significant pain in a range of areas in the body and unfortunately, the jaw is one of those. Female patients, and less frequently male patients, of heart attacks, typically suffer from jaw pain on the left side of the face during the attack.
Less Frequent Causes of Jaw Pain
This condition develops because of trigeminal nerve compression. This nerve is responsible for sensation in a significant portion of the face and compression of this nerve can lead to pain in the upper or lower jaws. Such abnormal pressure can affect the proper functioning of the nerve and cause intense pain when the face is touched or facial muscles are moved. The shooting shock-like sensations in the mouth, cheek or lower jaw feel more like an ache and can cause twitching of facial muscles.
This is a rare but serious condition of bone infection resulting from bacteria entering the jaw bone. Such infection can spread if prompt treatment is not done and can cause complications if the problem is serious. If the pain worsens over time, you develop fever, swelling, or tenderness in the teeth, and feel tired or fatigued easily, you should seek medical assistance.
Symptoms of Jaw Pain
Since jaw pain results from a variety of root conditions and has a number of different causes, the symptoms differ depending on what is causing the jaw pain. Typical and most commonly reported symptoms include worsening facial pain when the jaw is in use, muscle tenderness and limited jaw motion, problem in jaw alignment, popping sounds when the jaw is opened or closed, earaches and headaches, jaw locking, toothache, nerve-type stabbing pain or burning sensations, and facial swelling. In more serious conditions fever can accompany the problem, particularly if the problem results from an infection.
If timely medication is not sought, complications ranging from surgical and dental problems to infections, persistent pain, emotional instability, and a loss of appetite can result. Pain while chewing and swallowing can reduce food intake and create other related health problems.
Treatment for Jaw Pain
Jaw pain can be a seriously disturbing pain that affects your normal functioning. If you are suffering from such debilitating pain, immediate medical attention must be sought but in the meantime, you can use several home remedies that will lessen the intensity.
- Use heat to relax your muscles and minimize stiffness of the jawbone muscles. You can use a heating pad or warm water bottle to achieve the results.
- Use an ice pack or cold compress to numb the pain. This method is particularly effective if your jaw pain is accompanied by facial swelling.
- If the pain is too intense to bear and is hindering everyday tasks like chewing and talking, you could consider over-the-counter non-prescription medication for pain relief. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and other such medicines can help.
- Give your jaw maximum rest and avoid talking excessively. Consider removing hard and difficult-to-chew food substances from your diet and include softer foods like rice or bread.
- Try massaging the affected area under the advice of a physical or massage therapist to reduce tension in your muscles.
- Use relaxation techniques if the primary cause of your jaw pain is grinding or clenching resulting from stress. Relaxing your muscles can help relieve the pain.
- Adjust your sleeping position. If you are used to sleeping on one side and with your hand under your jaw, change your posture because this can be causing stress on your jaw muscles. If a particular side aches, avoid sleeping on that side during the night.
Stress-relief techniques are particularly effective in reducing jaw pain that results from clenching. Try including yoga and meditation in your daily routine so that your muscles can relax and the pain reduces.
Chewy foods and caffeine in your diet can both be contributing factors to the pain. Caffeine in the morning can cause muscle tension and avoiding this can help in the long run.
Initial medical interventions focus on non-invasive medical procedures and tools.
- Mouth-guards are recommended to protect your teeth against unintentional grinding or clenching, especially during the night.
- Muscle relaxers can be prescribed by your dentist to relieve jaw tension but research proves that this remedy is not always effective with people suffering from TMD.
- Botox injections are a more invasive medical treatment option that includes the use of cosmetic injections to the jaw to keep the jaw from clenching. Botox has botulinum toxin that has this effect and this treatment is a relatively long-term remedy lasting for several months. A re-injection would be needed later.
- Jaw surgery is the last resort used only in severe conditions especially involving TMD problems. Severe pain resulting from structural abnormalities is treated using this procedure.
Jaw pain can have a number of causes ranging from severe issues like TMD to milder ones like clenching and grinding. Depending on the cause your dentist will recommend one of the many treatments and the aforementioned home remedies can help in the meantime.