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Jaw Pain: Causes and Treatment

Jaw pain is a common condition. It can be temporary and mild or severe. When the pain is extreme, it can interfere with your quality of life and cause discomfort when you eat or speak.

The cause of jaw pain can be hard to pinpoint, but your dentist can help. He or she can be a valuable partner in helping you find the cause of the pain and to treat it.

What causes jaw pain?

Possible causes include:

  • Clenching or grinding your teeth (bruxism). Stress or dental problems can cause you to grind your teeth. It may even run in your family. You may grind your teeth during the day or while you sleep, so you may not even know you’re doing it.
  • Over chewing. Chewing gum or anything that you chew constantly over time can cause tightness in your jaw muscles.
  • Stress. When you’re anxious or stressed, you may clench your jaws or grind your teeth, either while you’re sleeping or during the day.
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD). This disorder causes pain in your jaws and the surrounding muscles. If you have this condition, you jaws may throb or ache or you may have tenderness in or around your ear, jaw, or face. The pain may get worse when you’re chewing food. You may also hear a clicking sound or feel a grinding sensation when you move your jaw.
  • Osteoarthritis. This is a common joint disease, also known as “wear and tear” arthritis. It’s usually much less severe than rheumatoid arthritis of the jaw point. Symptoms include a grinding sound, known as crepitus, when you move your jaw.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. This autoimmune disorder affects the whole body. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 70% of people with rheumatoid arthritis have or will have some symptoms of TMJ. Rheumatoid arthritis causes bone loss and damage to jaw joints and surrounding tissue.
  • Tetanus. Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a bacterial infection that can be fatal. The tetanus vaccine protects you against this infection. Symptoms of tetanus include difficulty swallowing, muscle pain in the neck and jaw, and stiffness in the stomach.

How can my dentist help heal my jaw pain?

Your dentist may see the first signs of trouble during a routine dental exam. If your jaw pain is from grinding your teeth, for example, your dentists will notice the wear and tear on your teeth. Your dentist can make a mouth guard for you to wear that will protect your teeth from further damage.

If your jaw pain is caused by TMJ, your dentist can make a splint to help reduce the strain on your jawbone and the muscles around it.

A splint or mouth guard may be used with ice packs or heat therapy, medication, exercises, or other therapies your dentist recommends.

While over-the-counter options are available, they offer limited help and often make problems worse due to thickness that can prevent normal jaw closure or affect natural movement while you sleep. A custom-made mouth guard or splint will be more effective in lining up your jaws naturally and reducing the strain on them.

When you consider the cost of potential damage to your teeth or jaws, the cost of a splint or mouth guard is a good long-term investment in your health and wallet.

There are many possible causes of jaw pain, and when you’re dealing with more than one issue, it can be complicated. Work with your dentist to develop a personalized treatment plan to help relieve your pain and give you peace of mind.