Jaw health plays a central role in keeping the body healthy when it comes to chewing and digesting the food you eat. When jaw pain develops, it not only compromises your ability to eat but may also affect other areas of your health depending on the cause. Pain in jaw can take different forms, including a throbbing sensation, not opening all the way like it should or clicking when you move it. Jaw pain causes may indicate a serious medical problem is present so it’s important to identify problems early on and seek out treatment. Keep reading for a brief overview on how the jaw works along with six causes of jaw pain you shouldn’t ignore.
How the Jaw Works
The jawbone consists of an upper bone, a lower bone and two joints, known as the temporomandibular joints or TMJ. When chewing, speaking or swallowing, the upper jaw remains immobile while the lower jaw moves up, down and side to side. Several jaw muscles and ligaments enable the jawbone to work as it does.
The joints included in the jawbone connect the jaw to the skull. Each joint consists of a ball and socket with a disc between these structures to cushion the load. Along with the teeth and gums, the jawbone, its joints, muscles and ligaments work together so jaw pain can develop out of any one of these areas. Here are eight possible jaw pain causes.
6 Causes of Jaw Pain
1. Teeth Grinding
Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, typically occurs during sleep. Upon waking, you’ll likely experience soreness in the jaw and a mild headache. High stress levels can promote teeth grinding at night. Crooked teeth can also be a cause. A mouth guard, molded by a dentist, can prevent teeth grinding and eliminate jaw pain.
2. Pain Involving the Jaw Muscles
Pain in the jaw muscles, a condition known as myofascial pain syndrome, can cause chronic jaw pain to develop over time. Pain may be coming from the muscles themselves or the sheaths (called fascia) that encase the muscles. Symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome include limited jaw function and/or a clicking or popping noise when you move your jaw. If you have arthritis, poor posture or have suffered a trauma to the mouth or spine, these conditions can give rise to pain in jaw muscles. A dentist who specializes in treating TMG can help you manage jaw pain by identifying and addressing the underlying cause.
3. Improper Bite
If you’re experiencing a dull pain in your jaw when you talk or chew, your overall bite might be off. An improper bite occurs when the teeth don’t meet together as they should when talking or chewing. Causes of an improper bite may stem from past trauma to the jaw, missing teeth or even an impacted wisdom tooth. A good dentist can diagnose this condition and prevent your teeth from “drifting” out of place by making the proper corrections, such as building a bridge or crown for the affected teeth.
4. Infection-Related Causes
If you’re seeing redness or swelling along the teeth or gums, an infection may be causing your jaw pain. Infections typically develop in dental cavities that go untreated. An infection-related pain in jaw requires immediate treatment to keep the infection from entering the bones. The tooth may have to be pulled and antibiotics may also be needed.
5. Sudden and Severe Jaw Pain
Of all the jaw pain causes, this one may be the most serious. Sudden, severe jaw pain, particularly pain in the lower-left portion of the jaw, may be a sign of a heart attack. In effect, the heart sends pain signals to other areas of the body since it doesn’t have pain receptors itself. Pain shooting down the left arm is the more commonly known area of the body. The heart can also send pain signals to the jaw. When this happens, it’s best to go to the emergency room.
6. Dental Problems
Jaw pain causes often originate in the teeth and gums. Some of the most common causes include:
- Toothaches caused by a cavity or an abscess
- Cracked teeth
- Gum disease
- Teeth that are sensitive to heat and cold
A visit to the dentist will alleviate all of the above, except cancer. Much like how cancer forms and spreads in other areas of the body, cancerous cells can develop anywhere inside the mouth, including the jawbone. Cancer may appear as persistent sores or abnormal growths in the mouth or as numbness or pain in the jaw area. An experienced dentist can diagnose the problem and treat it or make the necessary referrals.
As Always, Early Detection Is Key
Pain, in any form, is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Jaw pain is no different. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to avoiding more serious problems down the line. Our team at Sunrise Dentistry takes a comprehensive approach to ensuring your dental needs are met. We also make it a point to build solid relationships with our patients, which helps take the dread out of going to the dentist. Our dentist, Dr. Dale Strietzel, is a top Durango dentist who has over 30 years of experience in the field so you expect an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment care. Call us today at (970) 247-3303 to schedule an appointment.