Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) is often thought to be the culprit when people experience jaw pain. While TMD can cause a variety of jaw problems, it does not always cause pain. Patients suffering from severe jaw pain or pain that lasts more than 24 hours, should consult a professional to rule out potentially serious health issues. But even minor jaw or tooth pain can indicate the early stages of an issue that if left untreated, could develop into a more serious problem down the road. As such, jaw pain should never be ignored. There are several health issues that contribute to jaw pain so in this article, we will evaluate some of the most common.
Because of their proximity to the jaw, infections in the sinuses, ears, or teeth, can all lead to jaw pain. With a sinus infection, blockages, pressure buildup, and swelling in the sinus cavity can cause pain that may radiate into the jawbone. Pain could also stem from the infection spreading to other areas. An untreated sinus infection can lead to an ear infection, further swelling near the jaw, and related jaw pain.
A common jaw pain cause is an abscessed or infected tooth. With an abscessed tooth or gum infection, the infection can travel to the jaw area leading to significant pain. Abscesses often require a root canal procedure to clean out the infected tissue.
Clenching or grinding the teeth, known as bruxism, puts excessive amounts of force on the jaws and can contribute to discomfort. Because bruxism most often occurs subconsciously when sleeping, muscles surrounding the jaw can also be affected. Treatment options for bruxism include behavior modification and/or using a protective mouthguard at night when sleeping.
Jaw pain can also occur when the teeth are not aligned to properly interact with each other. Commonly known as your bite pattern, misalignment can lead to uneven teeth wear and pain in the jaw. Misaligned bite patterns can often be corrected with braces or other devices that reshape the bite pattern to improve functionality.
People often joke about overusing their jaw but in reality, overuse can be a serious medical issue. For example, people who chew gum throughout the day can cause damage to their jaw resulting in constant discomfort. The discomfort may be attributable to the length of time the jaw is moving or the chewing motion itself. Taking time to give the jaw a rest generally resolves the discomfort rather than necessitating any professional intervention.
Many people believe the pain associated with osteoarthritis is isolated to the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders. However, any joint in the body, including the jaw, can be affected by osteoarthritis. Consultation with a medical provider would be necessary to determine if the patient’s jaw pain is related to arthritis.
One of the more serious reasons for jaw pain could be related to a heart condition. Similar to chest pains on the lateral side and arm associated with a heart attack, pain in the lower left jaw (particularly in women) may indicate heart trouble. Anyone experiencing pain in their lower left jaw, especially if accompanied by other heart related symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pains, should seek immediate medical attention.