When you’re enjoying a sandwich or chatting with a friend, you might not think about the bones and muscles that come into play. But when you have jaw pain, you get a sense of the crucial role your jaw plays in your well-being. Your teeth and jaw are a unit and work together to make some of life’s most essential activities possible. Jaw pain can have a range of dental and medical causes, and your dentist is usually the best place to start. She can help you identify and treat oral health issues that may be causing pain and make medical referrals as needed.
How Are My Teeth and Jaws Connected?
Your teeth are anchored to your jaw bone by the alveolar bone, which contains your tooth sockets. Your upper jawbone is called the maxilla, and the lower jawbone is the mandible, the largest and strongest bone in your face and the only bone in your skull that moves.
What Causes Jaw Pain?
Several dental and medical conditions can cause jaw pain. If your jaw hurts, your dentist can help you figure out what’s wrong and refer you to a doctor if needed. Some of the causes include:
- Dental Problems: the connection between teeth and jaws means that dental problems are often at the root of jaw pain. Some potential dental causes include:
- Tooth misalignment: If your teeth don’t fit together properly, it can cause jaw pain and headaches.
- Cavities or abscess.
- Cracked tooth.
- Gum disease can lead to bone loss and damage to the jawbone.
- Wisdom teeth erupting.
- Clenching or grinding your teeth in the daytime or at night can lead to jaw pain. These habits are usually stress-related, and we often don’t realize when we’re doing them.
- TMJ disorders: when patients have problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that attaches the lower jaw to the skull, it can cause jaw pain. Symptoms include headaches, tenderness around the jaw, clicking or popping of the jaw, painful chewing, teeth grinding, or clenching.
- Injury: facial trauma from sports, vehicle accidents, assault, or home or workplace accidents can lead to a broken or dislocated jaw.
- Sinus infection: your upper jaw is connected to your nasal passages. A sinus infection can cause fluid to build up and put pressure on the upper jaw.
- Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition related to the trigeminal nerve that carries sensation from your face to your brain. One branch of this nerve runs right along the jawline. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include shooting or jabbing pain, and it often affects one side of the face at a time. If your dentist suspects this condition, he’ll refer you to a doctor for further testing.
- Heart attack: jaw pain is one of the less well-known symptoms of a heart attack, especially in women, and is related to a disruption of blood flow. According to the Cleveland Clinic, patients sometimes experience pain on the left lower side of the jaw when a heart attack is happening.
What Are The Treatments for Jaw Pain?
For short-term relief of jaw pain, try an ice pack and over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen. However, if pain persists, it’s important to see your dentist as soon as possible. One of the most effective treatments for several types of jaw pain is a custom-fitted mouthguard/ night guard. A mouthguard can reduce or eliminate symptoms from teeth grinding or TMJ disorder. Other treatments include:
- Physical therapy, including ultrasound treatments and massage.
- Stretching your jaw through regular exercises.
- Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can help with stress and TMJ symptoms.
- Antibiotics for a sinus infection diagnosis.
- Prescription medications or surgery for trigeminal neuralgia.
- If you have mild pain or dental issues after a jaw injury, see your dentist. A dentist can usually treat a simple dislocation. If you have more severe symptoms, your dentist will refer you to a doctor in case of a fracture.
How Can I Prevent Jaw Pain?
Reducing stress is one of the best ways to prevent jaw pain. Exercise, meditation, and talking with a therapist can help reduce stress and prevent grinding, clenching, and TMJ symptoms. Other prevention methods include:
- Avoid chewy foods and gum.
- Avoid tobacco products and eliminate or moderate alcohol use.
- Wear a mouthguard during sports. Customized mouthguards from your dentist offer the best protection.
Remember, regular dental checkups are one of the best ways to prevent jaw pain. Your dentist can make sure your teeth and gums are healthy, identify TMJ or grinding symptoms, and catch medical issues that require referral to a physician. At Greenhill Family Dental Care, oral health goes beyond a great smile and fighting cavities. We take a holistic view, including healthy teeth and gums and the jaw that creates the foundation. Keeping up with routine visits helps us identify problems early and prevent potentially painful conditions. If you experience jaw pain, make an appointment with your dentist. It’s the first step in getting answers and real solutions.