Jaw pains can have multiple underlying reasons such as teeth grinding, osteomyelitis, TMD, dental conditions, etc. If jaw pain is left untreated, then it can be potentially fatal as well. The nature and extent of this pain depend on the underlying cause. Symptoms of jaw pain are clicking of jaws while opening and closing of your mouth, visible redness, inflammation, etc. Sometimes, the jaw pain even extends to the back of your ears or sides of your head.
Jaw pain is an increasing reason for dental appointments these days. Most people complain of pain on opening the mouth wide, and there are also a few cases where people complain of pain while chewing.
Conventional treatment options for jaw pain are TMJ mobilization, spinal manipulative therapy, and jaw muscle facilitation. Whereas, natural remedies include stress management to curb bruxism, application of ice or heat packs, avoiding chewy foods, etc.
Moving further, you will see the symptoms, cause of jaw pain in detail. Also, we categorize different treatment modalities to either treat jaw pain or get relief from it.
Signs and Symptoms of jaw pain
Jaw pains can range from a mild to a moderate extent. Here are some signs and symptoms to look for, so that you have an idea about underlying causes.
- Jaw pain might remain confined to only areas around teeth. It can be due to a decayed tooth.
- Whereas, if jaw pain radiates to the back of our ears and side of our head, then this type of pain may have a more severe underlying cause such as a cluster headache or osteomyelitis.
- Teeth related jaw pain is mostly of throbbing nature and are acute. Pain related to trigeminal neuralgia is also of the same character.
- TMJ related jaw pains are mostly accompanied by clicking sound and inability to open the mouth wide. Oral submucous fibrosis also has similar symptoms.
- Jaw pain might be accompanied by visible redness and inflammation if there is an underlying infection. Like in the case of tooth abscess or sinus infection.
Teeth grinding, also known as Bruxism in dental terminology, is the most common cause for jaw pain. It can cause severe pain to your teeth and jaws.
In the process of clenching your teeth and then rubbing or grinding them over each other, you transmit pressure from our teeth to our jaws.
Thus, permanently damaging the delicate jaw joint or the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Do not associate chewing as teeth grinding. The leading cause of teeth grinding is stress related and habitual.
Bruxism occurs when we are subconscious or sleeping, and we have no control over it. Other than pain in the jaw, if bruxism is left untreated, then teeth grinding can lead to a lot of dental issues like chipping off of teeth and sensitivity.
Osteomyelitis is an infection starting out in the teeth (as pulpitis) that travels through the bloodstream affecting an individual’s jaw bones and surrounding tissues.
When we experience osteomyelitis of the jaw, the temporomandibular joint or TMJ is impacted. It results in jaw pain, fever, and facial swelling.
A part or parts of the jaw bone start decaying after a massive infection of the teeth and jaws. This leads to osteomyelitis. It is a potentially fatal condition and happens only because of initial neglect of a decaying tooth by the patient.
Temporomandibular disorder, also known as TMD, affects the temporomandibular joint or jaw joint. There is excruciating pain along with clicking or crackling sound from the jaw joint while opening and closing of the mouth.
If TMD is not treated in time, it may lead to locking of jaws in permanent open or closed position. (1)
Other causes of a jaw pain could be gum disease, tooth decay or an abscess. Many of these issues don’t affect the jaw directly. The pain can also radiate into the jaw area or even to the ear.
People who have gaps in between their teeth or have teeth that are severely decayed and fractured may also experience jaw pain when there is stress on their jaw because of biting or chewing.
An abscess below our tooth is the result of a dental pulp (soft tissue with nerves and vessels) that has become infected. It occurs when a dental cavity has been left off untreated for an extended period.
Bacteria from the infection begin to spread from the root of the tooth to the surrounding bone tissues, causing significant jaw pain because of associated swollen lymphatic glands.
These glands get inflamed to fight the infection. All of this results in jaw pain (2). There are a few exclusively medical reasons for jaw pain as well.
A heart attack can cause pain in the left side of the jaw, left arm, shoulder, and chest. Call your emergency helpline number immediately and ask to be taken to the hospital if you experience the following symptoms –
- chest discomfort
- shortness of breath
- feeling faint
A cluster headache
This type of a typical headache affects the areas around the eyeballs and forehead but sometimes also radiates to the jaw.
Severe sinus infections cause accumulation of mucus in these air-filled spaces. Sinus infections can cause upper jaw pain.
Neuralgia means nerve pain. Trigeminal nerve supplies a significant part of our face, jaws, and teeth. Any pathology related to this nerve can cause excruciating jaw pain.
The traditional approach of treatment widely used by dentists to relieve jaw pain includes TMJ mobilization, spinal manipulative therapy, and jaw muscle facilitation. In severe cases like cancer of the jaw bone and TMD, orthognathic surgery is done (3).
Osteomyelitis is curable with antibiotics or a surgical procedure to remove the areas of the bone that have died from the infection. But for this again, you need to see your dentist.
For post-traumatic jaw pain
Other than these, trauma can be a significant cause of jaw pain. A mild to moderate blow to your jaws can cause swelling in the jaw joint or even in the area of trauma. Trauma can further lead to jaw pain.
Other than this not much can be done about jaw pain without seeking help from a dentist. Over-the-counter pain medications are ibuprofen and acetaminophen which may help to reduce discomfort.
Natural treatment for symptomatic pain relief
Apply heat or ice packs
Place ice in a thin gauge and apply it over the affected area for ten minutes. Reapply if needed. Another option is to wet a cloth with warm water and apply it to your jaw area.
The moist heat will relax the overactive jaw muscles and relieve pain to some extent.
Massage the affected joint
Using your index and middle finger, gently press the sensitive parts of the jaw in a circular motion. Avoid vigorous rubbing. The massage relaxes any muscular spasm in the area reducing pain.
Lifestyle change for good
Try stress-relieving techniques to minimize jaw clenching. You can opt for yoga and meditation techniques. These activities will help you to reduce your jaw pain.
Do remember that inculcating good habits take some time and also results are not usually seen in a day. So, stick to a routine and within a few weeks, you will feel the difference.
Avoid chewy foods
Foods that are chewy, tough, or crunchy can cause a strain on your jaw joint and lead to pain and discomfort.
Avoid caffeinated beverages
Caffeine could be contributing factor to jaw pain in some cases. Avoid it if you see symptoms of jaw pain.
Other alternative natural therapy based on cause
Related to a dental condition
If a dental condition is causing jaw pain, then try to maintain a good oral hygiene. A bad tooth or unhealthy gums aggravates into a jaw pain.
Related to teeth grinding
As we have seen that teeth grinding could be one of the many causes of pain in the jaw. To reduce episodes of teeth grinding, you can aim at removing some stress causing activities from daily life.
You can also wear a mouth guard, given by your dentist, while sleeping could stop bruxism or teeth grinding.
Habits and jaw pain
Sometimes bad habits, like chewing tobacco, can lead to a severe condition known as oral submucous fibrosis, which leads to decreased mouth opening.
This creates a stress on the jaws, and hence the patient feels pain while making any jaw movements. Quitting the habit will hasten the healing process along with medical aid. Muscle relaxants could be given to treat this thoroughly. (3)
Over to you
Most doctors will first recommend non-invasive treatment methods for your jaw pain. If you still have jaw pain after trying above natural methods, you should talk to your dentist. You may need further interventions to find relief from jaw pain.
There are a few more severe reasons associated with jaw pain that includes osteoma (jaw bone cancer) and neuralgias (nerve pains). A dentist can only deal this with proper screening and confirmatory diagnosis.
Do not ignore a mild to moderate degree of jaw pain. Seek medical help and do not try self-medications like over the counter pain medication because they might give you temporary relief but your underlying cause might get worse in due course of time.