Severe jaw pain can become a huge nuisance, especially if it starts to affect your ability to speak and eat. Jaw pain can range anywhere from mild to severe, depending on what’s causing it, and it may be difficult to determine the source of the pain since it could be from a jaw issue or something else entirely.
If you’ve been experiencing excessive or recurring jaw pain, it’s a good idea to see your dentist as soon as possible. Our dentists at Rhoades Family Dentistry can help narrow down what may be causing your jaw pain and what you can do to relieve and prevent it in the future.
What Causes Jaw Pain?
Jaw pain can be due to injury or trauma to the jaw. However, there are some cases where jaw pain is due to an anatomical abnormality or lifestyle habit that puts too much work load on your jaw muscles.
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMD/TMJ) is one of the most common causes of jaw pain. The TMJ is the hinge joint on each side of the jaw; when your facial muscles become tense, or the joint itself becomes inflamed or changes positions, your jaw will start to make clicking or popping noises when moved. Additionally, TMD is known to cause headaches, facial pain, and damaging wear on your teeth.
Many factors can cause TMD, including:
- Grinding your teeth at night
- Airway obstruction
- Clenching your jaw when stressed or anxious
- Facial trauma such as getting hit in the face during sports
- Tight or painful facial muscles
- Jaw joint injury
- Excessive gum chewing
- A bad bite or poor posture
Besides TMD, there are also some less common causes of jaw pain that you should be aware of, such as:
- Migraines: Cluster headaches or migraines that cause pain around your eyes can radiate to your jaw.
- Sinus Problems: Infections in your sinuses can lead to a build-up of mucus, putting pressure on your jaw joint and causing pain.
- Tooth Infections: Severe tooth infections can cause pain to radiate to your jaw.
- Trigeminal Neuralgia: The trigeminal nerve provides sensation to a large portion of your face, including your upper and lower jaws. Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that’s caused by compression on the nerve.
Heart Attack: Similar to how you may experience pain in your chest, arms, back, and neck as warning signs of a heart attack, you can also experience pain in your jaw. Particularly women can feel pain on the left side of their jaw and face during a heart attack. If you think you or a loved one is having a heart attack, it’s important to call 911 or get to the hospital as soon as possible.
Ways to Manage Jaw Pain
If you’re wondering how to manage jaw pain, there are some things to try before you head to the dentist. While more serious conditions like TMD must be managed and treated by your dentist, infrequent or temporary jaw pain may be treated at home.
Here are some methods to consider for jaw pain management that may help with minor pain and discomfort.
1. Stop Teeth Grinding and Clenching
Most jaw pain treatments can be managed by avoiding any grinding or clenching, also known as bruxism. Bruxism puts a lot of strain on your jaw joints and muscles, especially if you heavily grind or clench your teeth at night, during work, or while exercising.
Other similar habits that can strain your jaw include tightly resting your teeth together, biting your cheeks or lips, pushing your tongue against your teeth, or biting objects like pens. Fortunately, these habits can usually be reversed if you’re aware that you’re doing them and try to stop.
2. Relax Your Muscles
Tense facial muscles can largely contribute to jaw pain. Closely monitor the positions of your jaw throughout the day and try to keep your jaw as relaxed as possible. Your teeth should be kept apart, with your tongue and jaw muscles relaxed.
You can also try practicing general relaxation and abdominal breathing to reduce tension and clenching when stressful events occur.
3. Limit Gum Chewing and Caffeine Intake
When learning how to lessen jaw pain, it’s best to avoid chewing gum or other chewy or crunchy foods that put too much strain on your jaw joints. Some foods to watch out for may include beef jerky, sticky candy, gum, and ice.
You should also limit your caffeine intake since caffeine plays a huge role in disturbing sleep and increasing muscle tension.
4. Improve Posture
Learn to improve your posture during exercise or while you’re sitting and using a computer to avoid excess jaw pain from slouching. You can also try physical therapy to stretch your muscles around the jaw or correct any reoccurring posture issues.
5. Address Medical Conditions
If you experience any medical conditions that can contribute to jaw pain, such as sinus problems, back pain or problems, extreme headaches, or osteoarthritis, these should be addressed as soon as possible by a medical professional.
You should also talk to a medical professional and dentist if you have jaw pain due to trauma or injury. Your doctor may recommend ways for managing it, such as physical therapy or corrections to your jaw.
Preventing Future Jaw Pain
Some jaw pain is temporary and may subside on its own with little or no treatment. Your doctor may first recommend non-invasive treatment options, such as wearing a mouthguard at night to prevent teeth clenching or using muscle relaxers to help with jaw tension.
For more severe jaw pain treatment, your dentist may try more extreme options such as Botox injections, jaw surgery, or MLS laser therapy. Jaw surgery is usually only needed in extreme cases for TMD problems and pain. If you have structural damage to your jaw joint, you may also need corrective surgery to fix it.
If you’re still wondering how to treat jaw pain, Rhoades Family Dentistry is here to help. We provide all general dentistry services, as well as treatment for TMJ disorders and jaw pain. Contact us today at 913-782-7227 to learn more or schedule an appointment.