Jaw pain is no fun. It can make essential activities, like eating and speaking, difficult. Luckily, there are several common causes of pain in the jaw, and most are treatable.
When to Seek Help For Jaw Pain
Most jaw pain goes away on its own within a week or two, but If the pain persists and home remedies have not helped, it may be time to seek professional help.
If the pain interferes with your daily routine, results in an unusual jaw motion, makes a sound when you move your jaw, is accompanied by neck, upper back, eye/head pain or ringing in the ear, or is the obvious result of broken or worn teeth, call a doctor or dentist.
Causes of Jaw Pain
There are many causes of jaw pain, including:
- teeth grinding, clenching, or opening the mouth too wide
- dislocation or injury; this could involve a displaced disc, a dislocated jaw, or injury to the muscle
- osteomyelitis, an infection affecting the bones and associated tissues
- arthritis and degenerative or inflammatory joint disorders
- synovitis or capsulitis, which inflame the lining of the joint or a connecting ligament
- gum disease, cavities, tooth gaps, damaged teeth, or abscesses
- sinus problems
- tension headaches
- neuropathic pain, when damaged nerves send pain signals to the brain
- vascular pain, when the blood supply is disrupted
- neurovascular pain from migraine or cluster headaches
Jaw Pain Diagnosis
It can be difficult to determine the cause of jaw pain. Your health practitioner will probably take a medical and pain history first. Next, a physical exam to assess the nerves, neck bones, jaw, mouth, and muscles may be conducted. Finally, laboratory tests, imaging procedures and/or psychological and psychiatric screenings may be suggested. In rare cases, surgery may be need to diagnose the problem.
Once a cause is determined, treatment can begin.
Treatments For Jaw Pain
Facial pain caused by a minor injury may be relieved by over-the-counter pain medications like Tylenol and Advil, eating soft foods, applying ice packs or moist heat, and avoiding extreme jaw movements like wide yawning, loud singing, and chewing gum.
As jaw pain is often associated with stress and/or cramps, techniques to reduce stress, gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercises to increase jaw movement may help. Exercises to improve your posture to avoid neck and back strain, may also be useful.
Other treatments include:
- surgery to remove damaged bone or treat an affected nerve
- a mouth guard
- physical therapy
- muscle relaxants or tranquilizers
- topical capsaicin
- steroid injections
- antiviral therapy
- oxygen therapy
- blood pressure medications
- vapo-coolant spray to relieve painful muscles
- injections with local anesthetics
- massage or acupuncture
If the root cause is gum disease, cavities, tooth gaps, damaged teeth, or abscesses, you will be referred to a dentist or oral surgeon.
Preventing the Pain from Coming Back
Once your jaw pain has gone, you want to keep it from coming back. Here are some basic jaw pain prevention measures:
- avoid putting hard foods and objects in your mouth
- take small bites
- avoid caffeine
- practice massage, meditation, and/or aerobic exercise to relieve stress
- take calcium and magnesium supplements if needed
- sleep on your back or side
- when carrying heavy bags on your shoulder, switch shoulders often
Getting an annual check-up at your doctor’s, and seeing your dentist twice a year for routine cleanings can also help prevent jaw and other health problems. Depending on the situation, you may be referred to an Oral Surgeon.