Read below about jaw pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your jaw pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Jaw Pain Symptoms

Jaw pain can be a vague symptom with a number of different causes, and some of them are not really caused by the jaw. However, it is possible to search through your additional symptoms and pinpoint the cause of an aching, painful jaw.

Characteristics:

  • Aching pain in your jaw, ear, and/or face, especially when chewing or attempting to open or close your mouth.
  • Clicking, popping, or grinding sounds in your temporomandibular joint (TMJ,) which is the hinged joint just in front of your ear.
  • Locking or sticking of the TMJ.
  • Headache.
  • An uneven appearance of the teeth and bite, which may either be a cause or a result of your jaw pain.

Who is most often affected?

  • Women between the ages of about 30 to 50 seem to be most often affected, although anyone can have the symptom of jaw pain.
  • Anyone with the constant habit of chewing gum may find themselves with jaw pain, due to simple overuse of the chewing muscles.
  • If you wear orthodontic braces you may experience jaw pain, due to the forces trying to readjust the alignment of your teeth.
  • Sitting with poor posture with your head forward, such as when looking at a computer screen all day, is sometimes associated with TMJ pain.

Is it serious?

  • If the pain is caused by simple tension and anxiety, it can be easily treated by your medical provider or you may be able to simply use some relaxation techniques on your own.
  • Jaw pain that is caused by dental problems or by inflammation of the TMJ should be treated by a dentist or other specialist, because these conditions can worsen and cause further pain and damage.
  • If you are having jaw pain as a symptom of a heart attack, or because you have a damaged, infected, or broken bone in the jaw, it must be treated right away.

Jaw Pain Causes Overview

Most common cause types:

  • Inflammation and wearing away of the cartilage of the temporomandibular joint.
  • Dental infections, which can spread down into the jawbone and the roots of the teeth.

Less common cause types:

  • Anxiety, which leads to tension, which can lead to tooth grinding and jaw clenching. The actions can cause damage and uneven wear to the surface of the teeth, which then causes uneven pressure on the joints of the jawbones.
  • Overusing the jaw muscles for chewing or even talking, which can leave these muscles sore and inflamed.
  • Abnormalities of the jaw, which can be treated by dentists and other specialists.
  • Myofascial pain syndrome, where "trigger points" – small areas of very tight, contracted muscle tissue –cause pain when touched or pressed.

Rare & unusual cause types:

  • Injury that may not be obvious right away, such as a fracture. This can occur to either an upper or lower jawbone.
  • A tumor forming in or somewhere near the jawbones.
  • Heart attack.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Jaw Pain

Updated on Aug. 29, 2018

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced jaw pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    Outcome is highly case-dependent.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder:
    pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Acute Salivary Duct Stone (Sialolithiasis)

    A salivary duct stone is the most common disorder of the salivary glands (where you make spit). They can range in size from tiny particles to stones that are several centimeters in length.

    Symptoms last 26 days on average

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    swelling on one side of the face, swollen jaw, painful face swelling, spontaneous jaw pain, painful jaw swelling
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  3. 3.Myofascial Pain Syndrome

    Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic musculoskeletal syndrome caused by trigger points within muscle. Pressure on these points causes pain in the area around the point as well as in other body parts, a phenomenon known as referred pain.

    Resolution of pain is dependent on type of treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, tender muscle knot, general numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome:
    tender muscle knot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Tooth Abscess (Infection)

    A tooth abscess is a collection of infected material (pus) in the center of a tooth. It is due to bacterial infection.

    Resolves after treatment

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    severe jaw or tooth pain, swollen jaw, jaw stiffness, tooth pain that gets worse with hot, cold, or sweet beverages, warm and red jaw swelling
    Symptoms that always occur with tooth abscess (infection):
    severe jaw or tooth pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Jaw Pain Checker

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  5. 5.Infected Wisdom Tooth (Pericoronitis)

    Pericoronitis of the 3rd molar is an infection of the gums surrounding the 3rd molar (wisdom tooth). It almost never happens to normal teeth because wisdom teeth take a long time to break the gums (erupt). It's believed that once the wisdom tooth breaks the surface of the gums, the bacteria in the mouth get into the gums at that spot and cause an infection. This is also worsened by food particles that build up in the area.

    Need treatment for it to get better

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    possible wisdom tooth pain, moderate tooth pain, tooth pain that makes chewing difficult, severe tooth pain, mild tooth pain
    Symptoms that always occur with infected wisdom tooth (pericoronitis):
    possible wisdom tooth pain
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  6. 6.Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)

    Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal.

    7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, jaw pain, ear pain that gets worse when moving
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Tension Headache (First Onset)

    Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache. It is pain or discomfort in the head and/or neck. It's often associated with muscle tightness in these areas. This condition can occur as little as once a year (infrequent) but as often as more than 15 days per month (chronic). The cause of tension-type headaches is not clear.

    Tension headache symptoms usually resolve within a few hours but can last up to a week. However, if this particular episode is unusually severe or debilitating, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, nausea or vomiting, moderate headache, loss of appetite, mild headache
    Symptoms that always occur with tension headache (first onset):
    new headache
    Symptoms that never occur with tension headache (first onset):
    photo and phonophobia, throbbing headache, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Dislocation of the Jaw

    A jaw dislocation is when the bones of the mandible (lower jaw) come unhinged from the bones of the side of the head.

    Good prognosis after putting the jaw back in, but it can become chronic and may require surgery

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    jaw pain from an injury, locking or dislocating jaw
    Symptoms that always occur with dislocation of the jaw:
    jaw pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Jaw Pain Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • The jaw pain is accompanied by chest pain, sweating, and/or shortness of breath.
  • The jaw pain is sudden and severe, especially following a fall or accident of any kind, and you are unable to properly move, open, or close your jaw.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Jaw pain that seems to come from one or both corners of the jawbone, up in front of your ears. You may be referred for physical therapy, corticosteroid injections into the joint, or, more rarely, for surgery.
  • Jaw pain that seems to be localized to one or more teeth. Your dentist can help with this by treating any teeth in need of filling or removal.
  • Jaw pain that may be caused by ongoing tension or anxiety, which leads to tooth grinding and constant clenching and tensing of the jaw. Your medical provider can help you with this or refer you to someone who can.

Remedies that you can try at home:

  • Avoiding chewing gum as well as foods that are difficult to chew, such as taffy.
  • Stretching or massaging the muscles of the jaw.
  • Using hot or cold packs to ease pain.
  • Using over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.

FAQs About Jaw Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about jaw pain.

Can jaw pain be caused by ear infection?

Yes, an infection within the ear, called otitis media or middle ear infection, can cause a series of symptoms including referred pain to the angle of the jaw called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This pain will resolve with resolution of the infection. You can also take an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or other NSAIDs to help tolerate the pain while your body fights the infection.

Can jaw pain be a symptom of a heart attack?

Yes, a heart attack can cause a series of symptoms that may seem unconnected. Classically, you may experience chest pain or chest pressure, shortness of breath, and numbness or tingling radiating to the left arm as well as pain along the line of the jaw.

Why do I have jaw pain with a sinus infection?

A sinus infection can cause pain, especially in the upper jaw as the pressure increases in the sinus cavities of the face. The sinus cavities of the face are continually cleaned out in a normal and healthy individual. If you become sick with an infection of the upper respiratory tract, a combination of swelling of the mucus membranes and an increase in mucus make it more difficult to completely empty the sinuses. As mucus builds up in the sinus cavities, it can lead to compression of nerves that run along the cavity. One of these nerves supplies sensation to the jaw. When it is compressed as it runs through the sinus cavity, you may feel jaw pain.

Is jaw pain caused by stress?

Generally, no, jaw pain is not caused by stress. However, bruxism or teeth grinding, especially at night, is caused by stress. Bruxism can cause tooth loosening and jaw pain. In this way, jaw pain can be caused by a condition that can be caused by stress. A bite guard at night, getting enough sleep, and developing new stress management strategies are ways to avoid tooth grinding.

Can jaw pain feel like a toothache?

A toothache would be categorized as jaw pain. A toothache is caused by damage to or triggering of a nerve that supplies a tooth. This triggers sensitivity in the tooth, and depending on how deeply the nerve is affected, the jaw below the tooth as well. In reality, jaw pain can be a symptom of toothaches.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Jaw Pain

  • Q.Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Q.Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Q.Do you feel a painful, tight knot or band in your muscle anywhere on the body?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our jaw pain symptom checker to find out more.

Jaw Pain Quiz

Jaw Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced jaw pain have also experienced:

    • 9% Headache
    • 5% Eye Pain
    • 4% Scalp Pain
  • People who have experienced jaw pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 35% Less Than a Week
    • 34% Less Than a Day
    • 15% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced jaw pain were most often matched with:

    • 37% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
    • 37% Myofascial Pain Syndrome
    • 25% Acute Salivary Duct Stone (Sialolithiasis)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having jaw pain

Jaw Pain Quiz