Whether you are experiencing a dull ache, soreness, or sharp severe pain, pain around your ear and jaw can be worrying. There could be a few common culprits of facial or jaw pain. 

Pain is your body’s natural way of signaling that something is wrong. If you are grinding your teeth, you might have an infection or a joint disorder. Hence getting to the bottom of your jaw pain is essential, for your comfort and to fix the underlying problem, which could be severe.

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Learn more about these common causes of pain, so keep scrolling down. If the pain increases, discuss this with your dentist or healthcare professional.

Jaw Pain Overview

Have you ever had jaw pain? It can be a debilitating condition that affects your ability to speak and eat. Many things might cause jaw pain, from your sinuses and ears to your jaw and teeth. This means it can be difficult at times for your dentist to tell if your pain is because of a jaw issue or something else.

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Finding out the root cause of your jaw pain can be difficult. This is mainly because there are numerous sources from which the pain can originate, like muscles, teeth, or bones in the jaw. The pain can also arise from other areas of your body like your ears, sinuses, or even your heart.

What Causes Jaw Pain?

The common causes of pain are dental issues and disorders that affect your TMJ joint – the joint that connects your skull to your lower jaw bone.

Most pain is due to an injury or abnormality to the joint of your jaw. But there could be other possible causes as well. Find below some of the causes of this kind of pain:

1 Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMD)

It is commonly referred to as TMDs. It is the most common cause of pain, affecting more than 10 million Americans alone. Temporomandibular joints or TMJ allow your mouth to open and close.

 Temporomandibular disorder or TMD happens when the joints malfunction, creating symptoms like pain and swelling in the sides of your face. The TMJ is the hinge joint located on each side of your jaw. 

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There can be several factors that cause TMD. It is also possible to experience TMD due to several causes at the same time. Causes of TMD could include:

  • injury to the jaw joint
  • muscles that control jaw movement might cause pain
  • excess stimulation of your jaw joint
  • a displaced disc that might help cushion the movements of the jaw
  • arthritis of the protective disc located at the jaw joint

The most common signs and symptoms of TMJ disorder include jaw tenderness. You will feel a toothache, as well as headache or even an earache. The pain might be worse when chewing, and you might hear or feel a popping noise when eating.

In such a scenario, you might also experience an overall decreased jaw range of motion. Moreover, this condition might be associated with neck pain and stiffness, and shoulder pain that radiates down your arm.

Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Bruxism or teeth grinding issues can also result in pain since many do this while sleeping. Many times you might not be aware that you are grinding your teeth.

Symptoms of bruxism include face, jaw, and neck pain, headaches, and dental problems, including worn-down and fractured teeth.

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Besides teeth grinding, other muscle overuse conditions include  – teeth clenching and excessive gum chewing. All these conditions will cause jaw pain.

3  Jaw Pain Due to Toothaches

There could be multiple dental problems associated with this pain. For example, a cracked or broken tooth might cause intermittent, dull, or sharp pain triggered when you bite or eat. 

A tooth cavity may also cause constant pain that might worsen by hot or cold food. Other dental problems like dry sockets and tooth abscess may also cause pain. Dental abscess, a severe tooth infection, can cause referred pain that radiates to your jaw.

4 Infection or Sinus Infection

An infection around the head and neck area, specifically a sinus or ear infection, might also be the cause. Other symptoms of sinusitis could be fever, headache, toothache, nasal congestion, and cheek pain. 

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

Likewise, besides severe pain, other symptoms of an ear infection could include difficulty hearing, nausea, vertigo, and occasionally, ear drainage.

5 Trauma

Injuries to the face or jaw, including a dislocated or broken jaw, could cause significant pain.

Rare Causes of Jaw Pain

While most cases of jaw pain are classically linked to a TMJ problem, dental issue, or infection are other causes that your dentist needs to consider.

1 Heart Attack

Jaw pain might signal a heart attack, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. A crushing or heavy feeling in the center or left side of the chest that may move upwards to the jaw or neck could indicate a heart attack. 

Other heart attack symptoms include difficulty breathing, dizziness, sweating, nausea and vomiting, and weakness. Call the emergency number when you have a heart attack. 

2 Autoimmune Conditions

These conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and systemic lupus erythematosus might also cause jaw pain. These are specific symptoms that are quite similar to those of TMJ disorder.

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3 Trigeminal Neuralgia

It is a severely painful condition that affects the trigeminal nerve. The nerve helps you detect facial sensations and move your jaw. 

This condition often causes one-sided attacks. You might have a sharp, electric-shock-like pain in the eyes, lips,  nose, jaw, forehead, and scalp. The pain is generally triggered when you eat, talk, or expose your face to cold air.

4 Osteonecrosis of the Jaw

The condition occurs when the blood supply to your bone is disrupted, and the bone begins to die. It can cause severe pain. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to osteonecrosis. Other conditions can also lead to this condition where the patient might experience severe jaw pain.  

5 Cancer

Certain types of cancer, like oral cancer, may result in severe pain in the jaw and face. With oral cancer, there might be other symptoms present, such as a sore in the mouth that doesn’t heal, persistent pain in the mouth, trouble chewing or moving the jaw, loosening of the teeth, swelling of the jaw, and a lump or mass in the neck area.

It might surprise you that the above list of pain causes is not exhaustive. Hence you need to seek out a proper diagnosis from your dentist.  Your dentist might take dental X-rays of your jaws to capture images of the interior of your teeth and gums. 

The majority of pain in your jaw is not related to medical emergencies, but if your discomfort is severe and prolonged, it might have serious consequences. If your pain is associated with signs and symptoms like chest pain, trouble breathing, sweating, or dizziness, be sure to seek immediate medical attention.

Medical Treatment for Jaw Pain

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

Mouth guard: A mouth guard is simply a plastic dental protector you need to wear on your upper or lower teeth. The mouth guard is custom-fitted for your mouth. You can purchase one at a pharmacy, but your dentist will make you one that will fit better and last longer. If you wear it at bedtime, it can help stop you from unconsciously grinding your teeth.

Muscle relaxers: If your pain does not respond to the mouth guard, your dentist might prescribe muscle relaxers to relieve jaw tension. However, this solution does not always help people with TMD.

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Botox injections: Apart from the above, more invasive treatment methods might include Botox cosmetic injections. When injected into your jaw muscles, the botulinum toxin present in Botox may keep your jaw muscles from clenching. This would possibly help to relieve pain due to TMD. These injections will last you for months, and you may require re-injection later.

Jaw surgery: In very rare instances, will your dentist recommend jaw surgery to correct TMD problems. This treatment is usually reserved for patients with severe pain caused due to structural issues in the jaw joint.

Takeaway

Getting to the bottom of your jaw pain might require a little patience and persistence on your end. Especially when you find yourself going back and forth between your dentist and your doctor. Be rest assured that once the source is found and a diagnosis is made, a vast majority of people can obtain relief and treatment.

As you can see, pain in your face, cheekbones, jaw, or chin could have many causes. Your dentist or healthcare professional can treat all of these issues successfully, but they need to be diagnosed quickly. 

To determine the exact source of your pain, schedule an appointment with your dentist at the earliest. A thorough examination would help to identify the precise cause of the problem and also the treatment plan.