Why You Might Be Feeling Pain in Your Jaw

Woman holding hands up to her face

The Most Common Causes of Jaw Pain

The human body is estimated to have somewhere between 250 and 350 joints. However, there is only one movable joint in your skull, which connects the lower jaw to the rest of your skull.

This joint is the temporomandibular joint, and a disorder involving this joint is the most common cause of feeling pain in the jaw. In fact, nearly 25-35% of the population suffers from TMJ disorder.

If you’re experiencing pain in your jaw, though, it’s possible that it’s being caused by another issue entirely.

Are you feeling jaw pain and wondering what the cause is? Let’s take a look at what you need to know about why you might be experiencing pain in your jaw.

What Is TMJ?

There is a joint known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that acts like a sliding hinge and attaches your lower jaw to the rest of your skull. You can find this joint located in front of your ears on both sides of your head. This joint is what makes it possible for you to open and close your jaw to perform actions like eating and speaking.

Sometimes the abbreviation TMJ is also used to describe a group of jaw-related health problems. This is becoming more commonly abbreviated as TMJD or TMD, though, to distinguish the health issues from the joint itself.

Symptoms of a TMJ Disorder

The cause and severity of your condition will determine the symptoms you experience. One of the most common symptoms is pain both in the jaw as well as in surrounding muscles. Some additional symptoms that can be associated with TMJD include:

  • Stiffness in the jaw muscles
  • Pain that can be felt in the neck or face
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Popping or clicking sound from the TMJ site
  • Limited jaw movement
  • Malocclusion or a shift in the jaw that changes the way the teeth align

Someone that is suffering from a TMJ disorder might experience these symptoms on one or both sides of the face.

Causes of TMJ Disorders

It isn’t always known what causes a TMJ disorder. In some cases, trauma to the joint or the jaw can contribute to this type of issue. For example, you might experience jaw pain due to a broken jaw, a dislocated jaw, or when recovering from dental surgery.

A number of other health issues might play a role as well, including:

  • Erosion of the joint
  • Arthritis
  • Structural jaw problems that were present at birth
  • Habitual clenching or grinding of the teeth

Some of the other theorized potential causes of TMJ that have yet to be proven include:

  • Prolonged stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet
  • The use of orthodontic braces
  • Poor posture that puts strain on the face and neck muscles

Unfortunately, the cause of TMJ in specific cases is often not known.

How TMJ Disorders Are Treated

These disorders can often be treated at home using self-care practices. However, if home treatment doesn’t help reduce your symptoms, your doctor might recommend or prescribe a number of different options. These include:

  • Pain medications
  • Corticosteroid drugs to help reduce jaw swelling
  • Medications to help your jaw muscles relax
  • CBT to help reduce stress
  • Botox to reduce tension in the nerves and muscles of the jaw
  • Bite guards or stabilization splints to prevent teeth grinding

Surgery or other procedures might be recommended in some instances. These can include joint replacement, corrective dental treatment, and arthrocentesis.

Other Causes of Feeling Pain in Your Jaw

While TMJ disorders are the most common reason behind jaw pain, it’s not the only potential cause. Let’s look at some other factors that could be causing your jaw pain.

Other Dental Problems

A number of different dental problems can cause jaw pain. These include gum disease, damaged teeth, cavities, tooth gaps, and abscesses.

Referred pain from severe tooth infections known as dental abscesses can lead to pain radiating to the jaw. Dental abscesses require treatment from a dentist.

Joint Problems

When you think of arthritis, you probably don’t think about the joint in your jaw right away. However, the TMJ is at risk for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other types of arthritis.

Arthritis is a condition that can lead to the smooth interface between the joints to wear away. Eventually, it can lead to the bones themselves starting to wear away. This can result in bone pain.

A number of types of arthritis can lead to inflammation in the joints. Pain can develop if these conditions impact the TMJ.

Heart Problems

The chest isn’t the only place people feel pain when they experience a heart attack. They can also feel pain in places such as their back, arms, neck, and jaw. If you are experiencing jaw pain in addition to chest discomfort, sweating, shortness of breath, feeling faint, nausea, and sweating, you should call 911 immediately.

Sinus Problems

You have air-filled cavities that are located near the TMJ that are called sinuses. If your sinuses become infected by a pathogen such as a bacterium or a virus, the excess of mucus produced could put pressure on your jaw joint and lead to pain.

Are You Feeling Pain in Your Jaw?

It isn’t always easy to understand why you are feeling pain in your jaw. You could be experiencing issues with the jaw itself, or it could be caused by sinus problems, heart problems, or more. Toothaches can also be a cause of pain in the jaw, which should be treated by visiting a dentist.

At Blue Haven Dental, we offer a number of general dentistry services. You can book an appointment here.