Jaw pain, which sometimes radiates to other areas of the face, is a common concern. It can develop due to sinus infections, toothaches, issues with the blood vessels or nerves, or other conditions.
Most types of jaw pain result from temporomandibular joint disorder. In many cases, jaw pain does not need immediate medical attention, but sometimes, it can indicate a more serious underlying condition that needs treatment.
Anyone with severe, worsening, or persistent jaw pain should see a doctor for a diagnosis.
In this article, learn about the causes of jaw pain and the treatment options available.
Jaw pain can result from physical injuries, damage to the nerves or blood vessels, infections, and several other causes.
Temporomandibular joint disorder is a cluster of conditions that affect the bones, joints, and muscles responsible for jaw movement. These conditions can cause pain and discomfort.
It is a common complaint and usually goes away without medical treatment, though some types may need treatment.
The symptoms tend to vary, but they may include:
- pain in the face and jaw
- jaw locking
- clicking, popping, or grinding sounds
- tooth grinding or clenching
- difficulty chewing or opening the mouth
- a burning sensation in the mouth
- sensitive teeth
The sections below list some of the potential causes.
Jaw pain can result from:
A broken jaw: This can result from a fall or a blow to the face.
A dislocated jaw: This can result from opening the mouth too wide, such as when yawning.
Dental surgery: This can cause jaw pain because it can take time to recover from a procedure.
An injury or strain can cause muscle tension, resulting in jaw pain.
How can a person recognize a broken or dislocated jaw? Find out here.
Teeth grinding and clenching
Many people grind or clench their teeth while they sleep or at times of emotional stress. This is also known as bruxism. It can lead to significant tooth damage and jaw pain.
Learn more about bruxism and what to do about it here.
Osteoarthritis and other types of arthritis can cause the smooth interface between the joints, and eventually the bones themselves, to wear away. Bone pain can develop as a result of this.
Gum disease, cavities, tooth gaps, damaged teeth, and abscesses can all give rise to jaw pain.
This type of pain occurs when nerves become damaged and send pain signals to the brain. Symptoms can be continuous or only occur from time to time.
Angina can develop when the heart does not get enough oxygen-rich blood, usually due to a coronary artery blockage. It can cause chest pain as well as jaw pain. A person who has angina is also at risk of experiencing a heart attack.
Tension headaches result from stress.
Research has found that some people with temporomandibular jaw pain also experience headaches, but there seems to be no link between the two conditions. For this reason, it is unclear whether or not there is a link between jaw pain and headache.
Some other conditions that may give rise to jaw and facial pain include:
- salivary gland disorders
- stress, fatigue, and a lack of sleep
- autoimmune conditions, such as lupus
- obstructive sleep apnea
- ear infections
- some mental health conditions
The specific and accompanying symptoms of jaw and facial pain will vary depending on the cause.
They may include:
- facial pain that worsens when the person uses their jaw
- joint and muscle tenderness
- a limited range of motion
- jaw alignment issues
- clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing the jaw
- ringing in the ears
- headaches with or without ear pain and pressure behind the eyes
- jaw locking
- pain that ranges from a dull ache to a sharp, stabbing sensation
- tension or other headaches
- nerve-type pain, such as a burning sensation
- facial swelling
Anyone concerned about jaw pain should see a doctor, dentist, or oral surgeon.
Complications can arise if the person does not seek medical attention for their jaw pain. The complications will depend on the cause and other factors, including the treatment approach.
Some possible complications of jaw pain include:
- dental complications
- surgical complications
- ongoing pain
- emotional distress
- loss of appetite due to pain or difficulty chewing and swallowing
To diagnose jaw pain, a doctor will ask the person about their symptoms and carry out a physical examination. They may also recommend a blood test, an imaging study, or both.
In some cases, the doctor might also suggest psychological and psychiatric screening.
If they believe that a specific condition is causing the pain, they may recommend tests specifically for that condition.
Treatment will depend on the cause of the pain. Various options are available.
A doctor may prescribe the following medications:
- antibiotics, if tests reveal a potential bacterial infection
- muscle relaxants
- oral, spray, or topical medications for pain relief
- steroid injections, to decrease inflammation or swelling
- antiviral therapy, to treat viral infections such as herpes zoster
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove any damaged bone or to rebuild the jaw.
Some physical therapies include:
- using mouth protectors, such as a mouthguard
- trying physical therapy
- trying relaxation therapy
- stretching, to increase muscle flexibility
- checking posture, to prevent neck and back strain
Some dental treatment options include:
- root canal treatment
- tooth extraction
- heat or cold therapy
Some home and alternative remedies include:
- adopting a soft diet, to prevent excessive jaw movement
- trying massage
- trying acupuncture
Many people use braces to straighten their teeth, but some worry that they will be painful. Learn more about braces here.
If a person has already experienced jaw pain, following these tips may help prevent it from returning — at least during the recovery phase:
- eating soft or liquid foods, such as soup or pasta
- avoiding eating crunchy or chewy foods, such as gum
- taking small bites of food
Some long-term strategies include:
- seeking regular dental care
- reducing stress by trying meditation, yoga, or other types of exercise
- massaging the jaw area to relax the muscles and increase blood flow
- using a mouthguard to stop the teeth from grinding together
- adopting the correct posture and not carrying a heavy bag for too long on one shoulder
A doctor can advise on the most suitable preventive measures.
In this article, get some tips on exercises that can help relieve jaw pain.
Which foods can help?
A person with jaw pain and discomfort should follow a healthful diet to ensure that they get the right nutrients. However, they may need to avoid chewy, hard, or crunchy foods.
Some suitable dietary options include:
- plain yogurt
- soaked or cooked oats
- soft fruits
- cottage cheese
- scrambled eggs
- mashed vegetables
- lentil soup or chicken broth
Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent choices, as they provide all the nutrients a person needs.
Jaw pain does not always need medical attention, but a person should see their doctor when:
- home remedies do not improve jaw pain
- jaw pain interferes with a person’s daily routine
- there is a change in the way the jaw moves or the teeth line up
- the jaw starts making a clicking or popping sound when moving
- pain occurs in the neck or upper back
- they have eye pain, vision changes, or headaches
- tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, occurs alongside jaw pain
- they have dental problems, such as broken teeth
- there is swelling that could be a sign of infection
- they have a fever
A person should speak with a dentist or doctor about jaw pain to get a diagnosis and suitable treatments, if necessary, for an underlying condition.
Dental problems can cause jaw pain. How can a person reduce the risk of dental problems? Get some tips here.