What is jaw pain?
Jaw pain is a common issue that affects millions of people in the U.S. Jaw pain may be an ache, stiffness or pain in your jawbone or the area around your ears. Jaw pain may be mild or can be severe and affect your quality of life. Many factors can cause jaw pain, such as grinding your teeth, gum disease or a toothache. But jaw pain may also be a symptom of a serious issue, including a broken or dislocated jaw or a heart attack.
What does jaw pain feel like?
Jaw pain may feel like:
- Stiffness in your temporomandibular joints. Your temporomandibular joints are located on both sides of your face, just in front of your ears. They connect your lower jaw and your skull. Your temporomandibular joints are why you can move your lower jaw up and down and side to side.
- Throbbing pain or ache in your jaw.
- Intense pain in your jaw after an injury.
- Pain that spreads from your chest or shoulders to your jaw. This may be a symptom of a heart attack. Heart attacks are medical emergencies. Call 911 if you have this symptom.
- Pain when you try to open your mouth (trismus).
What does pain in one side of my jaw indicate?
Pain on one side of your jawbone may be a symptom of a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) or tooth issue.
When should I be concerned about jaw pain?
Sometimes, some jaw pain goes away on its own. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have jaw pain that lasts for more than a week.
Other times, jaw pain is a medical emergency. Call 911 or go to the emergency room if:
- You think you broke your jaw or dislocated your jaw.
- You have pain that spreads from your chest to your jaw.
What are the most common causes of jaw pain?
Temporomandibular joint disorder often causes jaw pain. Other common causes include:
- Abscessed tooth: An abscessed tooth is a pocket of pus around a tooth that’s caused by a bacterial infection. An abscessed tooth may cause jaw pain.
- Arthritis: Arthritis affects your joints. Your joints may become inflamed or begin to break down. If you have arthritis, it may affect your temporomandibular joint and cause jaw pain.
- Bruxism (grinding teeth): Grinding your teeth regularly may affect your temporomandibular joint and muscles, causing jaw pain.
- Gum (periodontal) disease: An infection in your gum caused by poor dental care may cause jaw pain.
- Infections: Bacterial infections such as sinusitis or tetanus (lockjaw) may cause jaw pain.
- Mumps: Mumps is a contagious disease that may cause jaw pain because the disease makes your salivary glands swell. Your salivary glands are located between your ears and jaw.
- Trauma: You’ve injured your jaw, including breaking or dislocating your jaw. A dislocated jaw happens when your lower jawbone moves out of one of your temporomandibular joints. A broken or dislocated jaw is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Care and Treatment
How do healthcare providers treat jaw pain?
That depends on why your jaw hurts. If you have a broken jaw, you may need surgery. If your jaw hurts because you have an abscessed tooth or periodontal disease, you’ll need dental treatment. If you have TMD (sometimes called TMJ), a provider may recommend you try the following:
- Eating soft foods.
- Applying heat or cold to your jaw.
- Doing gentle stretching exercises to relax and strengthen your jaw muscles.
- Taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).
- Stop doing things like clenching your jaw, biting your nails or grinding your teeth.
What are medical treatments for jaw pain caused by TMD?
Healthcare providers may use the following treatments:
- Muscle relaxants.
- Physical therapy or exercises to ease tight jaw and neck muscles.
- Mouth guards or other orthodontics to protect your teeth, joints and muscles if you grind your teeth.
Can I prevent jaw pain?
You can prevent jaw pain by:
- Protecting your jaw from injury: Wear a seatbelt when you drive or ride in a vehicle. Wear protective headgear if you play contact sports where someone or something might hit your jaw very hard.
- Taking care of your teeth: Brush and floss your teeth and get regular dental checkups.
- Managing your stress: You may have jaw pain because you’re grinding your teeth.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call a healthcare provider about jaw pain issues?
You should talk to a healthcare provider if you have jaw pain that lasts more than a week.
Severe jaw pain from a broken or dislocated jaw is a medical emergency. Likewise, severe pain that starts in your chest and your shoulders and moves to your jaw may be a heart attack symptom. Call 911 if you think your jaw is broken or dislocated or you have heart attack symptoms.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Millions of people in the U.S. have jaw pain. Sometimes, jaw pain happens if you injure your jaw, but most jaw pain happens because you have issues with your teeth or you have a temporomandibular disorder that affects your jawbone and joints. If you have jaw pain that lasts for more than a week, talk to a healthcare provider. They’ll find out why your jaw hurts and treat the issue.
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