The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are on either side of the jaw, but a person may experience jaw pain on one side. This pain is not usually a cause for concern and may result from sinusitis, oral health issues, or TMJ disorders.

People can treat these causes at home, or a doctor can prescribe a suitable treatment method.

This article will explore the possible causes of one-sided jaw pain, how a person may reduce jaw pain symptoms, and the available treatment options.

A girl holding the bottom of her jaw with both of her handsShare on Pinterest
Emotion Matters/Stocksy

Jaw pain may occur on one side of the jaw or both sides. Some conditions may cause pain on one side of the jaw, which may travel to the opposite side.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the temporal bone of the skull to the mandible, or jaw bone, on each side of the jaw.

Along with the jaw muscles, the TMJ allows for jaw movements, such as:

  • chewing
  • sucking
  • swallowing
  • opening the mouth

An older research study showed that more people had unilateral symptoms as they chewed more on the affected side.

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) refer to conditions that cause jaw joint and muscle pain and dysfunction of these structures. This disorder may affect one side of the jaw or both.

Disorders that may affect the TMJ include:

  • Disc disorders: This disc can dislocate on one side of the jaw, causing:
    • friction
    • pain
    • difficulty opening their mouth fully
    • jaw getting stuck open
  • TMJ arthralgia: A person may experience pain within the TMJ itself for various reasons, including infections within the joint or inflammation. They may also experience the following:
    • pain in the jaw or other parts of the face
    • pain when chewing or speaking
    • popping or clicking noise when moving
  • Bone destruction: There may be the destruction of the jaw bone in conditions such as osteoarthritis (OA). OA may cause the articular disc to break down, leading to inflammation and pain in the TMJ on one side.

How common is TMD?

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the prevalence of TMJ and temporomandibular muscle disorders ranges between 5–12%.

Diagnosis

There is no single test to diagnose TMD. A doctor will likely:

  • examine the jaw and other parts of the face
  • listen for jaw clicking
  • assess how much a person can move their jaw on one side

The doctor may also request additional tests to confirm findings, which may include:

Treatment

The available treatment option will depend on the severity of TMD. Conservative treatment may reduce symptoms in 50–90% of people. Conservative treatments include:

  • a diet consisting of soft food such as mashed potato, or liquid food such as soup
  • rest
  • applying a warm compress on the affected area of the jaw
  • gentle stretching of the jaw

A person may require over-the-counter pain medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, to ease the pain.

Learn more about treating TMD.

A person may also experience one-sided jaw pain due to oral health or dental issues. Oral health issues that may be causing pain in the jaw joint may include:

How common are oral health issues?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80% of people will have at least one cavity by the age of 34. Additionally, between 2009–2014, 4 in 10 adults over 30 had gum diseases.

Diagnosis

A person will likely see a doctor or a dentist to determine if they have any oral health issues. The medical professional will ask the person about other symptoms, such as:

  • oral pain
  • bleeding in the mouth
  • teeth sensitivity

The medical professional is also likely to observe the mouth for:

  • bleeding
  • signs of the teeth wearing away
  • crowded and misaligned teeth

Treatment

The treatment option will depend on the type of oral health issue a person is experiencing.

For example, a common treatment option for tooth decay and cavities is a filling. A dentist will remove the decayed tissue of the tooth and replace this with a filling material.

For misaligned teeth, a person may require dental braces. These will correct the positioning of the teeth and align the lower and upper jaw. More significant orthodontic work or even surgery may be required if there are misaligned jaw bones.

Learn more about orthodontic treatment.

Sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinuses and nasal passages of the face. Sinusitis may occur due to the following:

A person with sinusitis may experience the following:

How common is sinusitis?

According to 2018 data from the CDC, 28.9 million people in the United States received a diagnosis of sinusitis, while 234,000 visits to emergency departments occurred with chronic sinusitis as the main diagnosis.

Diagnosis

A doctor will diagnose sinusitis after performing a physical exam and taking a medical history. The medical professional may ask a person about their symptoms and examine their face and jaw for:

  • swelling
  • heat
  • mucus blocking the nose

Treatment

Treatment for sinusitis may include:

A person may require antibiotics if a doctor determines that the cause of the sinusitis is bacteria.

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a long-term condition that affects the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is one of 12 nerves that connect to the brain, and it is responsible for sensation in the face and the mouth.

A person can experience two types of TN: type 1 and 2.

Type 1 TN causes flashes of pain on one side of the face triggered by light touch. Type 2 TN causes a constant, aching, burning, and stabbing pain less severe than Type 1.

How common is trigeminal neuralgia?

The incidence of TN is approximately 12 per 100,000 people per year.

TN occurs more frequently in people over the age of 50 and in women.

Diagnosis

To make a diagnosis, a doctor will:

  • take a person’s medical history
  • carry out a physical examination, as well as a neurological examination, to determine if they have TN
  • request an MRI scan of the brain to determine whether a blood vessel is pressing on the trigeminal nerve

Treatment

First-line treatment for TN is typically medication, and a person may use these alone or in combination. The medications include:

  • antiseizure medication, such as
    • carbamazepine
    • phenytoin
    • oxcarbazepine
  • muscle relaxants, such as baclofen
  • antidepressants, such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline

TN that is not responsive to medication may require surgery, such as:

  • balloon compression
  • glycerol injection
  • radiofrequency ablation
  • stereotactic radiosurgery
  • microvascular decompression

A person should discuss these possible options with their doctor.

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection. This may occur in the jaw bone or other bones of the face.

This infection may occur due to trauma, surgery, or a lack of blood flow. It may also spread from some elsewhere in the body.

A person with osteomyelitis may experience pain at the site of infection, as well as the following:

  • fever
  • chills
  • swelling
  • warmth at the site of infection
  • raised red skin

How common is osteomyelitis?

There is an estimated 2–5 cases of osteomyelitis per 10,000 people in the United States.

Cases of osteomyelitis can happen anywhere in a person’s body. Anaerobic osteomyelitis often affects the lower jawbone.

Diagnosis

A doctor is likely to rely on a medical history and a physical examination to diagnose osteomyelitis.

The medical professional will ask about symptoms the person has been experiencing and physically examine the site of infection for swelling, redness, and warmth.

The doctor will request additional tests, such as:

The doctor may also take a biopsy (a sample of the bone) and send this to a laboratory so that they can see the tissue culture and identify the pathogen.

Treatment

Treatment for osteomyelitis will depend on the severity of the infection. Doctors will introduce antibiotics, and it may also be necessary to clean and drain the area of infection.

A tumor occurs when abnormal or damaged cells grow and multiply uncontrollably to form tissue lumps. Meanwhile, a cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms in the skin and may protrude through the overlying skin.

Benign tumors and cysts

Some benign jaw tumors include:

  • Ameloblastoma: These are rare benign tumors that rarely develop into malignant tumors. These are usually asymptomatic until a person notices oral or facial swelling.
  • Odontoma: This is the most common type of benign odontogenic tumor — a tumor that arises from the tissue that forms the enamel of the teeth and is usually asymptomatic.
  • Central giant cell granuloma (CGCG): These tumors constitute about 7% of all benign jaw tumors and do not tend to cause many symptoms apart from pain and swelling.

Odontogenic cysts are infections that originate in the teeth or their supporting tissues. The two types are developmental and inflammatory. The cysts tend to be asymptomatic unless they become inflamed.

How common are benign tumors and cysts?

Although ameloblastomas only make up 1% of all jaw tumors, they are the second-most common odontogenic tumors — abnormal growths in and around the jaw and teeth.

Meanwhile, the incidence of CGCG in the general population is approximately 0.0001%.

Periapical cysts make up 60% of all odontogenic cysts and commonly occur in the upper jaw bone.

Malignant tumors

Ameloblastic carcinoma is a rare malignant tumor that normally originates in the bones of the jaw — odontogenic. The lower jaw is the most common site for this tumor to develop.

Some people may be asymptomatic. However, others may experience the following:

  • progressive pain and swelling
  • bleeding
  • headaches
  • in rare cases, a person may:
    • be unable to open the mouth
    • have voice hoarseness
    • experience tingling or numbness
    • lose their voice

Osteosarcoma is a malignant bone tumor and accounts for 6% of all osteosarcomas. Squamous cell carcinomas are the second most common malignancy of the jaws

Diagnosis of tumors and cysts

A doctor may rely on a medical history and a physical examination to determine if a person has a tumor or cyst in the jaw region.

The doctor will also likely require imaging tests, such as an X-ray, to determine what structures the tumor or cyst is impacting and its extent. Depending on the tumor type, doctors may also order CT scans.

Doctors diagnose ameloblastic carcinoma based on a thorough clinical evaluation and microscopic examination of the tumor.

One procedure is fine needle aspiration, where a doctor will pass a needle through the skin and insert it into the mass for tissue samples.

Treatments

Treatment for tumors and cysts will vary depending on several factors, including the following:

  • type of tumor cyst
  • number of tumors or cysts present
  • their size
  • if they are harmful or harmless

Some treatments may involve surgical removal, for example, a doctor may surgically remove ameloblastoma.

Malignant treatment options

In malignant cases, treatment depends on the following:

  • primary tumor location
  • stage of the primary tumor
  • degree of malignancy
  • whether the tumor has spread
  • individual’s age and general health

Possible options include:

  • surgical excision
  • adjunctive radiation
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy for osteosarcoma

A person can discuss the most suitable treatment based on the above factors and options.

For general jaw pain, there are things a person can do to improve the pain. Some techniques include:

  • avoiding hard foods
  • using ice packs on the jaw joint
  • taking over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen
  • avoiding extreme and repetitive movements of the jaw, such as clenching or gum chewing
  • learning relaxation and stress-reduction techniques to limit jaw movement

A person should also see their dentist for regular check-ups to detect oral issues early.

Causes of one-sided jaw pain may include conditions such as TMD, or trauma. A person will need to see a doctor to determine the cause of their jaw pain and receive a suitable diagnosis and treatment.

People can also follow home remedies to ease jaw pain by using ice packs and over-the-counter pain medication.