Jaw pain is a general description for any discomfort in the jaw area specifically on the jaw joint or temporomandibular joint, the lower jaw bone or the mandible and adjacent soft tissues around the jaw bone itself.
Jaw pain can either be acute or chronic depending on the underlying cause. The pain may be characterized as dull in nature and can result in difficulty to open and close the mouth. The pain can also be aggravated by various activities such as swallowing, chewing, or even touching the mandible.
Jaw pain is actually not a separate disease, but a symptom of various conditions affecting the jaw, face and head. To help you understand this, the following are the common causes of jaw pain:
Problems in the Mandible and Soft Tissues Around it
The most common source of jaw pain is from disorders affecting the jaw area such as:
• Temporomandibular Joint Disorder- TMJ disorder is a condition involving inflammation in the jaw joint. TMJ disorder is the leading cause of jaw pain that can involve pain on the joint, ears and even the teeth. The inflammation in TMJ disorder causes the feeling of pain along the jaw.
• Osteomyelitis or infection of the jaw- Osteomyelitis involves the inflammation of the bone as a result of infection; thereby, causing pain as one of its symptoms.
• Fracture of the jaw
• Degenerative joint disorders such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosis
• Osteonecrosis of the jaw- Osteonecrosis is the lack of blood supply in the mandible as a result of taking medications for osteoarthritis. This loss of blood supply leads to tissue necrosis and anaerobic metabolism leading to pain.
• Jaw ligament disorder
• Bruxism or unconscious grinding of the teeth during sleep
• Lock Jaw or tetanus
Problems in Dentition
Jaw pain can also arise from dental conditions such as:
• Tooth impaction
• Dental abscess
• Tooth decay
• Tooth extraction complication
Problems in Other Adjacent Structures
Jaw pain can also be felt as a referred pain from other conditions affecting tissues around the head and neck. These include:
• Thyroiditis- Thyroid gland inflammation causes jaw pain because the inflammation may also affect the jaw joint.
• Migraine- Migraine headaches can also affect the nape area and may travel through the jaw bone.
• Trigeminal neuralgia- Damage to the trigeminal nerve in the face can also affect the jaw bone leading to jaw pain.
Other Serious Conditions
Chronic jaw pain that is unresponsive to pain medications may also be a result of:
• Oral cancer-malignant cells from oral cancer may metastasize or travel in the jaw bone causing bone cancer.
• Myocardial infarction- Heart attack usually involves pain from the anterior chest that radiates to the left shoulders, back and jaw.
Jaw pain can be a minor or simple condition on its own. However, any jaw pain should be referred to a health professional because this can be a sign of life-threatening underlying conditions. If you feel jaw pain, visit your dentist to rule out possible dental problems and also consult an orthopedic doctor or a neurologist for other possible causes.