7 Reasons Why You May Be Having Jaw Pain
Does your jaw ache? Does it click when you eat? Find out why and how to cure it.
(This article appeared previously on Grandparents.com.)
Your jaw is throbbing with pain. Or it’s making an irritating clicking whenever you eat. Or it doesn’t open properly. What gives?
“There are 101 reasons why your jaw can hurt. After age 50, the body’s healing responses start to decline and certain areas in the body become more susceptible to pain and inflammation," says Dr. Anthony Iacopino, American Dental Association spokesperson on geriatric oral health and dean of the faculty of dentistry at the University of Manitoba. "Things that may have been dormant for years become more of a problem as you age. The jaw joint is a common place for this to happen, especially for people with diets of hard, chewy food who have a history of clenching or grinding teeth or who have had whiplash-type injuries at an earlier age."
We know the obvious — that jaw pain can be caused by gum disease or cavities. Here are seven of the other potential reasons:
Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD)
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your lower jaw to your skull, is what allows your mouth to move. (Your upper jaw stays put.) Damage to it can cause TMD, problems with the jaw, face and neck area. (People often refer to jaw problems as "having TMJ," but technically TMJ is the joint and TMD is the disorder.) Symptoms are jaw muscle spasms, headaches, neck aches, jaw or teeth pain or trouble chewing or opening your mouth. Here are some TMD causes:
1. Myofascial pain syndrome
Symptoms: Myofascial pain is chronic pain from the muscles or the sheaths that surround the muscle (fascia). Myofascial pain is usually centered in the jaw muscles. The big three symptoms are facial pain, restricted jaw function and a clicking or popping noise when you use your jaw.
Risk factors: Arthritis, poor posture or injury can be the cause, but many times there is no known reason.
Dentist or doctor? See a dentist who specializes in TMD or an ear, nose and throat medical specialist. Pain can be managed with behavioral techniques (correcting posture), medications and facial massage. A University of California study found that patients found significant relief with acupuncture. Botulin injections also can sometimes be effective. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
2. Teeth grinding (bruxism)
Symptoms: Teeth are shortened and look very flat on top. This usually occurs during sleep. You may have a constant dull headache or sore jaw, especially upon awakening.
Risk factors: Stress, missing or crooked teeth
Dentist or doctor? Start with a dentist who can create a mouth guard to protect your teeth when you sleep. You also might want to see a psychotherapist or talk to your doctor about stress reduction exercises like meditation, physical exercise, physical therapy or possibly anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.
3. Malocclusion (improper bite)
Symptoms: Difficulty or dull pain when chewing or speaking
Risk factors: Trauma, heredity, thumb-sucking, impacted wisdom teeth or missing teeth that cause the others to drift
Dentist or doctor? Start with a dentist for diagnosis. The dentist can build a bridge or crowns to stop the “drift.” He or she may refer you to an orthodontist if you need braces, to an oral surgeon if you need teeth extracted or, rarely, to a surgeon to fix your jaw shape or repair poorly done previous dental procedures.
What You Can Do About Pain Right Now
If the cause of your pain is related to temporomandibular disorders, there are several things you can do to ease the pain: