Trouble Eating Difficulty Chewing

Pain or difficulty when eating and chewing can be due to several causes. The trouble could stem from an issue with the teeth, the jaw, facial muscles, or tongue. This article will discuss two of the more common reasons for chewing difficulty along with ways to manage the issue.

Jaw Issue

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) consists of two pairs of joints that connect the skull to lower jaw. The joint allows the jawbone to slide and rotate and can be found in front of the ears on both sides of the head. The joints facilitate talking and chewing and when one or both becomes painful or inflamed, the conditions is known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD).

There are numerous causes of TMJD including:

  • Wear and tear
  • Damage to the teeth surfaces
  • Loose or missing teeth that have caused jawbone damage or misalignment of the lower and upper jaws
  • Misaligned teeth or jaw
  • Overuse of chewing muscles
  • Damage or trauma
  • Arthritis
  • Tumors
  • Infections in the jaw

TMJD symptoms include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the jaw; may be present regardless of if TMJ is moving or not
  • Trouble fully opening the mouth
  • Difficulty or pain when chewing
  • Clicking or popping sensation in the joints
  • Headache

A doctor will diagnose TMJD by taking a medical history, reviewing symptoms, conducting a physical exam, and discussing any recent oral trauma or recent dental procedures. The patient’s bite pattern will also be evaluated to look for misalignment and X-rays could be ordered to check the teeth, joints, and bone structures.

Treatment options for TMJD varies based on the symptoms but may include:

  • Arthocentisis – procedure to flush debris causing inflammation from the joint
  • Behavior modification or stress management to stop habits like clenching/grinding the teeth; use of a night guard while sleeping may be recommended
  • Medication to relive pain, swelling, and inflammation
  • Splints to better align the jaw, muscles, and ligaments
  • Surgery to correct jaw abnormalities

Tooth/Teeth Issue

Pain when chewing could also stem from an issue with one or more tooth. Common tooth related causes for chewing difficulty include:

  • Tooth Decay or a Cavity: Cavities are areas of where decay has permanently damaged the tooth enamel creating a pit or hole where food and debris can collect resulting in pressure and pain. Cavities are generally corrected with dental fillings.
  • Tooth Abscess: An infection of the inner tooth pulp, an abscess can result in severe pain. Root canal procedures are often needed to remove the infected pulp tissue and restore the tooth.
  • Periodontal Disease: Pain when biting down could be due to gum disease. Gum disease can lead to receding gums, exposed tooth roots, spaces between the teeth, and loose teeth. Early periodontal disease may be corrected with a deep cleaning (scaling and planing) procedure but if left to progress, surgical interventions may be needed.
  • Cracked Tooth: A cracked tooth is not always obvious (visible) beyond pain when chewing. Severe fractures may be visible or show up on X-ray but hairline fractures are often undetectable. Treating a cracked tooth will vary based on the severity but options include bonding, crowns, and veneers.

Jaw Pain