What Jaw Pain Means: What Causes It and How to Treat It

If you are experiencing jaw pain then it could be an indication of a more serious condition like TMJ disorder. In this post, our Charlottetown dentists share some of the causes of jaw pain and what you can do to treat it.

What could be the cause of your jaw pain?

Jaw pain can have a variety of potential causes. It can indicate a dental issue such as a toothache, TMJ Disorder, or even more serious conditions or complications.

Some of the most common causes of jaw pain are:

TMJ Disorders (TMD)

One of the most common causes of pain affecting the jaw is TMJ Disorder. This pain originates in the temporomandibular joint which connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull (located just below your temple, in front of your ear). You use this hinge to do everything involving your mouth, including breathing.

TMJ Disorders occur when there is an issue with your facial and jaw muscles. Iff allowed to progress, this joint may eventually stop functioning.

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

  • Certain conditions or illnesses such as arthritis
  • Inflammation in the muscles surrounding your jaw
  • Misalignment of the jaw
  • Injury to the jaw

Some of the frequently seen symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

  • Pain or ache around your jaw, face or ears
  • Constant headaches
  • Locking or popping in your jaw
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems
  • Ringing in ears

If you suspect a problem with your TMJ, see your dentist so he or she can recommend treatment or exercises. Your dentist may prescribe pain medications or recommend surgery to help treat the issue.

Diseases or Infections

Though we take many routine vaccines in childhood that have fortunately gotten rid of diseases, it’s still possible to get diseases that can cause jaw pain and other symptoms.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause your jaw muscles to stiffen or feel tight. This serious condition can result in spending weeks in hospital.

Trauma and Damage

Just like other bones in your body, your jaw can become fractured or dislocated. After taking a blow to the jaw, you may experience:

  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Bruises
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Depending on the injury, you may need to see your dentist if the pain doesn’t go away, you are missing teeth or you’re unable to chew or open and close your mouth. Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen may help, in addition to dental treatment if necessary.

Dental Conditions

A variety of dental issues can lead to a sore jaw. These can include:

  • Fractured or crowded teeth
  • Toothache (typically with an abscess or cavity as the underlying cause)
  • Teeth grinding
  • Gum disease (which can cause your jaw bone to become damaged)
  • Wisdom teeth erupting
  • Misaligned teeth

These problems should be addressed as soon as possible, and fractured teeth are dental emergencies, so you should see your dentist right away. Until then, keep the tooth that hurts clean and try rinsing with warm water.

Cysts or Tumours

Not typically cancerous, odontogenic cysts or tumours can quickly begin to impact your teeth. Surgery may be required to remove them.

Cluster Headaches

One of the most painful types of headache, cluster headaches can result in pain around or behind one eye, with pain radiating to reach the jaw.


A type of infection that occurs in the bone, this condition can impact your mandible (lower jaw). Referred to as anaerobic osteomyelitis, this condition may damage your jaw bone and completely cut off the flow of blood.

What are some treatment options for jaw pain?

Caring For Jaw Pain at Home

  • Apply a warm, wet washcloth or ice pack covered in cloth to your jaw (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off)
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Rub the affected joint. Massage the joint using your fingers, pressing the sore areas of your jaw and moving to the side of your neck.
  • Avoid caffeine (which can potentially contribute to muscle tension)

How Dental Care Can Help

If you have tried all of the home remedies for jaw pain and still can't find relief then you should contact your dentist for an examination.

At Dr. Kerby Bruce and Associates, our dentists will discuss your symptoms with you, complete a comprehensive oral examination, explain possible treatment options, and develop a custom treatment plan that may include a mouthguard or other measures depending on your needs. 

In rare cases, oral surgery for TMJ Disorder may be recommended to correct the problem for those with severe pain that suffer from structural problems in their jaw and haven’t found relief with other remedies or treatments.

If you are concerned that you may be experiencing TMD or other conditions that cause jaw pain, contact our Charlottetown dentists to request an appointment today.

Providing Dental Care in Charlottetown

Our dental team at Dr. Kerby Bruce and Associates is committed to providing a range of dental services tailored to the needs of our patients. 

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