I have an earache and my jaw hurts!
This is something we commonly hear as doctors. The pain in the jaw can be related to a number of causes, and the symptoms can vary form one person to the other. Recognizing it early, and dealing with the problem can help in giving tremendous amount of relief.
Medically speaking, your jaw joint is the Temporomandibular joint, which is a ball and socket joint and connects your mandible i.e. the lower jaw to the bones of the skull and helps in movement like opening and closing of the mouth and is surrounded by several muscles, which helps it in its functioning. The diseases related to the temporomandibular joint are classified under Temporomandibular Joint Diseases ( TMDs ).
What are the Causes of Jaw Pain?
There can be several reasons you might be experiencing pain in and around your jaw.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)
Temporomandibular joint Disorders are one of the main causes of jaw pain. TMDs can be caused due to various reasons:
- Injury to the joint
- Injury to the muscles around the joint
- Injury to the disc of the joint
Grinding of teeth, too much stress, any kind of trauma to the joint, and arthritis, all can cause Temporomandibular Joint Disorders.
Grinding of Teeth
Grinding of teeth which is also known as bruxism is very common and the patient does it unknowingly. It is mainly caused due to stress. This grinding of teeth can cause the muscles to get tender due to the pressure. The teeth might get worn out as well.
Knowingly or unknowingly during stress and anxiety, we tend to grind our teeth. This leads to tenderness and pain in and around the muscles of the jaw and is therefore perceived as pain in the jaw.
Sinuses are air-filled cavities present near the jaw joint. In cases where there is an infection in the sinus, and the sinus is stuffed, again the pain can get transferred to the jaw joint.
Infection in the tooth especially the posterior upper teeth can cause severe pain and this pain can radiate to the jaw. The treatment might give immediate relief to the pain.
Osteoarthritis can cause wear and tear of the joint which then can lead to pain in the joint. It is common in old age, especially in females.
Trauma to the joint can cause the fracture of the condyle (part of the Mandible) and can lead to severe pain. Treatment involves surgical intervention and visiting an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who is a specialist in this field will help.
Cluster headache is another reason for pain in the jaw which is because the pain might radiate from the head. Once the headache is gone the pain in the jaw also will subside if that was the reason for the pain.
Trigeminal Neuralgia is a neuropathic pain involving one side of the face which affects the trigeminal nerve. This pain is a sharp shooting electric current type of pain and starts on light touch, and on doing routine things like washing the face, shaving, eating, talking, or even when cold air touches the face. It can involve the jaw on the affected side. There is no permanent cure for trigeminal neuralgia.
Any infection in the ear can again radiate the pain to the jaw mimicking the jaw pain.
Heart attacks can cause pain not only in the chest but also in the arm of the left side and the jaw. Any such pain involving the jaw, chest, and arm should be immediately dealt with, without a second thought and the patient should be taken to the hospital.
What are the Symptoms Related to Jaw Pain?
Symptoms related to jaw pain might vary from one individual to another. These include:
- Pain in and around the jaw joint
- Increase in pain while opening the mouth wide
- Inability to open the mouth wide
- Tenderness in the muscles around the jaw
- Clicking and popping sound while opening and closing the mouth
- Pain in the ears
- Pain in the upper posterior teeth
- Lock jaw
- Swelling on the affected side of the face
- Difficulty in eating
What are some Self Care Tips or Home Remedies For Joint Pain?
Depending on what has caused the jaw pain there are a few things you can do to relieve the pain at home.
Over the Counter Pain Killers
Painkillers might relieve the pain if it is caused by bruxism or a headache. You can take any painkiller you take routinely and you might find relief in pain in and around your TMJ.
Moist Heat Application
Applying heat to your face can help in relieving the soreness of the muscles around the TMJ and give relief in pain.
Take a towel and dip it in hot water, squeeze it, and apply it around your joint. This will help in relieving the pain. You can do it a few times a day and preferably before the jaw exercises which your doctor might have recommended you.
Warm Saline Rinses
Rinses with warm water with salt can also help in relieving some amount of pain in your joint and muscles surrounding it.
Just mix a small amount of salt in lukewarm water and rinse for 2-3 minutes, a few times a day.
Eating soft food is what will help you, as it will give rest to the muscles around the jaw. Eat food like curd, rice, pulses (dal), oats, soups, eggs, grains, etc. Avoid hard and chewy food, as that will again apply more pressure to the joint. Avoid food like burgers, for which you need to open your mouth wide.
Avoid Opening your Mouth Wide
Avoid big bites and food that will make your mouth open wide. Try keeping your hand on your chin while yawning so that you do not open wide. Inform your dentist before getting any dental treatment and your dentist will keep you comfortable by giving bite blocks during treatment.
Avoid stress. Stress is one of the main reasons for pain in the muscles surrounding the jaw. Keep yourself calm, do yoga and exercises, and relieve stress.
When Should I Visit a Doctor For Jaw Pain?
- If you have severe pain and the pain does not go even after medication.
- If the home remedies you used are not helping.
- If the pain is interfering with sleep or your day-to-day activity.
- If you are unable to eat anything properly.
- If the pain is recurrent after short intervals.
- If the pain is radiating to head, neck, teeth, arms or chest.
- If you have ringing in the ear.
- If you hear a clicking or popping sound from the joint while opening or closing your mouth.
Which Specialty of Doctors Should I Visit?
- If the pain involves your jaw, muscles around the jaw, and teeth, visit an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. They are experts in dealing with any problem related to your head and neck region.
- If the pain is also present in the arm, neck, chest, or head, it is better to visit a General Practitioner as they would help you better in such cases.
Diagnosis of Jaw Pain?
Your doctor will ask you a series of questions first and then do a proper clinical examination.
Questions like when the pain started, how severe is the pain, what time of the day the pain is the maximum if you had any trauma or are you under stress, are a few of the questions that your doctor will ask you and which will help in diagnosing the problem.
Your doctor will examine the joint, the muscles in and around the joint, and your dentition on the concerned side. After a thorough examination, your doctor might advise certain images.
Your doctor will advise certain images if required like a full mouth X-Ray, i.e. an OPG. This will show your joint in position along with the full dentition.
Cephalograms if required will be done.
If your doctor thinks there is a need for an MRI or a CT scan they will guide you accordingly.
What is the Treatment of Jaw Pain?
The treatment will depend on the diagnosis.
Your doctor might prescribe you the medication depending on the symptoms and the diagnosis. If the pain is due to clenching of the jaw due to stress, your doctor might give you muscle relaxants or painkillers.
If the pain is due to an infection they might prescribe antibiotics.
A combination of proper medication and self-care is sometimes the key to treating jaw pain.
If you are clenching during the night which is causing pain and discomfort, your dentist will give you customized night guards, which are like plastic trays worn in either the upper jaw or the lower jaw and helps your teeth to stay out of contact with each other. Thus preventing muscle sourness and pain.
Dental problems are what is sometimes the cause of jaw pain. So, getting proper dental treatment done can be the solution to the jaw pain you might be facing. Missing teeth in the posterior region can be the cause of pain in the joint, which can be treated by replacing them.
If the problem is in the joint, surgery is an option. But surgery is the last resort and it is advised to follow all the other options before going ahead with surgery, as it involves a lot of vital structures in that region.
Certain lifestyle changes can be made by the patients having jaw pain or TMDs. These might include:
- Staying stress free and doing relaxation exercises
- Eating soft food in small bites
- Avoiding crunchy and hard food
- Avoiding food that needs a big mouth opening like burgers and pani puris
- Doing warm water rinses daily
- Applying moist heat to the face daily
- Doing jaw exercises as directed by the doctor
- Visiting the dentist once every 6 months for a routine dental examination
Jaw Pain can be stressful, but most of the time stress is the main reason for jaw pain. So, the best thing to do is stay stress-free and follow the basic home remedies (except when the pain is radiating to the chest and arm, especially on the left side, visit a doctor asap). If the pain persists after following the self-care, do not delay and visit your doctor.
This blog provides general information about jaw pain. The opinion and content on this blog are only for conversational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice about any particular individual. If the reader or any other person has a medical or dental concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed dentist or an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon.
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