Why Does My Jaw Hurt

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.

Understanding Jaw Pain: How to Find Relief

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Jaw pain can be a debilitating condition that affects your ability to eat and speak. Many things can cause jaw pain, from your sinuses and ears to your teeth or jaw itself. This means it can be difficult to tell if your jaw pain is because of a jaw issue or something else.

Most jaw pain is due to an abnormality or injury to the joint of your jaw, but there are other possible causes as well. Here are some of the causes of jaw pain:

1. Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMD)

TMDs are the most common cause of jaw pain, affecting nearly 10 million Americans . TMD is also sometimes known as TMJ. The temporomandibular joints are the hinge joints on each side of your jaw.

Several things can cause TMD jaw pain. It’s also possible to experience TMD due to several causes at the same time. Causes of TMD include:

  • pain from the muscles that control jaw movement
  • injury to the jaw joint
  • excess stimulation of the jaw joint
  • a displaced disc that usually helps cushion the movements of the jaw
  • arthritis of the protective disc that cushions the jaw joint

Damage to the jaw joint or the muscles that control your jaw movement can be caused by several factors, including:

  • grinding your teeth at night
  • involuntarily clenching your jaw due to stress and anxiety
  • trauma to the jaw joint, such as getting hit in the face while playing sports

There are also less common causes of jaw pain. These include:

2. Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches typically cause pain behind or around one of the eyes, but the pain can radiate to the jaw. Cluster headaches are one of the most painful types of headache.

3. Sinus problems

The sinuses are air-filled cavities located close to the jaw joint. If the sinuses become infected with a germ, such as a virus or bacterium, the result can be an excess of mucus that puts pressure on the jaw joint, causing pain.

4. Tooth pain

Sometimes severe tooth infections known as dental abscesses can cause referred pain that radiates to the jaw.

5. Trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that’s most commonly caused by nerve compression on the trigeminal nerve that provides sensation to a large portion of the face, including the upper and lower jaws.

6. Heart attack

A heart attack can cause pain in other areas of the body besides the chest, like the arms, back, neck, and jaw. Women in particular may experience jaw pain on the left side of their faces during ­a heart attack. Call 911 immediately and ask to be taken to the hospital if you experience the following symptoms:

  • chest discomfort
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • feeling faint
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For immediate relief

Apply moist heat or ice packs: Place ice in a plastic bag, wrap it in a thin cloth, and apply it to your face for 10 minutes. Then take it off for 10 minutes before reapplying it. Another option is to run warm water over a washcloth, then apply it to your jaw area. The moist heat can relax overactive jaw muscles and relieve pain. You may have to re-wet the washcloth several times to maintain the heat.

You can also purchase heat or ice packs at a pharmacy or online. However, they should be covered in cloth at all times, or they could burn your skin. If it feels too hot or too cold, remove it.

Over-the-counter pain relievers: Medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help to reduce discomfort.

Massage the affected joint: Using your index and middle finger, press the sore areas of your jaw, such as the area right before your ear where your jaw joints meet. Rub in a circular motion for 5 to 10 rotations, then open your mouth and repeat the exercise. Massaging the muscles on the side of your neck may also help relieve tension.

Here’s another massage technique you can try to relieve your jaw pain (tap the arrows to see all four videos):

Lifestyle strategies to reduce jaw pain long-term

Stress reduction: Try stress-relieving techniques to reduce jaw clenching. These could include:

These activities may help you reduce your jaw pain if it’s caused by stress.

Avoid chewy foods: Foods that are chewy, tough, or crunchy can place too great a strain on your jaw joint and lead to pain and discomfort later. Foods to avoid include:

Avoid caffeine: Your morning cup of joe could be contributing to your muscle tension, which can be increased by caffeine. Avoiding large amounts of caffeinated coffee and tea may help reduce your jaw pain over time, but you may initially feel muscle tension from caffeine withdrawal when cutting it out of your diet.

Medical treatment

Most doctors will first recommend non-invasive treatment methods for your jaw pain. If you still have jaw pain after trying these methods, you should talk to your dentist. You may need further interventions to find relief for your pain.

Mouthguard: A mouthguard is a plastic dental protector worn on your upper or lower teeth that’s custom-fitted for your mouth. Although you can purchase one at a pharmacy, a dentist will make you one that may fit better and last longer. Wearing one at bedtime can help stop you from unconsciously grinding your teeth.

Muscle relaxers: If your pain doesn’t respond to the mouthguard, your dentist may prescribe muscle relaxers to relieve jaw tension. However, these don’t always help people with TMD.

Botox injections: More invasive treatment methods include Botox cosmetic injections. When injected into the jaw muscles, the botulinum toxin found in Botox may keep your jaw muscles from clenching, possibly helping to relieve jaw pain due to TMD. These injections will last for months at a time and may require re-injection later.

Jaw surgery: In very rare instances, a doctor will recommend jaw surgery to correct TMD problems. This treatment is usually reserved for people with severe pain and pain that’s due to structural problems in the jaw joint.

Last medically reviewed on April 13, 2017

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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    seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/symptom-index/earache/
  • Jaw pain. (n.d.) Retrieved from
    mouthealthy.org/en/az-topics/j/jaw-pain
  • TMJ disorders. (2015, April)
    nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/topics/tmj/tmjdisorders.htm
  • TMJ disorders. (2016, June 21)
    mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tmj/symptoms-causes/dxc-20209401
  • Trigeminal neuralgia fact sheet. (2013, June)
    ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Trigeminal-Neuralgia-Fact-Sheet
  • Warning signs of a heart attack. (2016, June)
    heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp#.WORuaRiZMzY
  • Women: don’t ignore these 3 subtle heart attack symptoms. (2016, March)
    health.clevelandclinic.org/2016/03/women-dont-ignore-3-subtle-heart-attack-symptoms/
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Everything you need to know about jaw pain

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.

a man holding the side of his face because he has jaw pain

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.

Trauma

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.

Arthritis

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.

Also, inflammatory conditions such as synovitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis cause inflammation in the joints. If these conditions affect the jaw bone joint, pain can develop.

Dental conditions

Gum disease, cavities, tooth gaps, damaged teeth, and abscesses can all give rise to jaw pain.

Neuropathic 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.

Examples of neuropathic pain include trigeminal neuralgia, postherpetic neuralgia, and cancer-related pain.

Vascular conditions

Sometimes, a problem with the vascular system can lead to jaw pain. Some examples of vascular conditions include temporal arteritis, or giant cell arteritis, and angina.

In temporal arteritis, the arteries on either side of the head — in the temple region — become inflamed, resulting in headaches and jaw pain. This condition may also put a person’s vision at risk.

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.

Osteomyelitis

In rare cases, an infection called osteomyelitis can affect the jaw bone and associated tissues. This is a rare complication of dental surgery.

Tension headaches

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.

Other conditions

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
  • fibromyalgia
  • sinusitis
  • ear infections
  • some mental health conditions

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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