Read below about severe jaw pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your severe 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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Severe Jaw Pain Symptoms

The jaw is a system of bones, hinges, and muscles that function to move the mouth. The upper jaw (also known as the maxilla) is fixed and immovable. The mandible is the lower, movable part of the jaw. The muscles of the jaw help to facilitate chewing and other movements of the mouth.

Jaw pain can affect your ability to eat and speak — greatly inhibiting everyday activities. When severe, jaw pain can be an extremely debilitating condition and can signal causes that vary in severity.

Characteristics

Severe jaw pain often results in symptoms such as:

If you experience such symptoms on a consistent basis, make an appointment with your physician as soon as possible to get appropriate care and follow-up.

Severe Jaw Pain Causes Overview

Conditions that affect the jaw itself can result in severe pain. However, conditions that affect different parts of the face — the sinuses, ears, and teeth — can also cause severe jaw pain. This makes it difficult to assess if jaw pain is because of a jaw issue or other condition. As a result, it is very important to make an appointment with your physician in order to discuss the possible causes of your pain.

Musculoskeletal

Dysfunction in the different components of the jaw itself is called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder [1]. TMJ Disorder can result from injury or trauma to the jaw, excess stimulation of the jaw, or mechanical issues with the discs that help support jaw movements. Furthermore, diseases or syndromes that affect the bones themselves — for example, Paget's disease of the bone — can also result in severe pain.

Neurologic

Neurologic causes of jaw pain may include the following.

  • Neuropathic: The word neuropathic refers to a disruption in nerve functioning. Severe jaw pain can be caused by a malfunction of the trigeminal nerve — the nerve that provides sensation to the scalp and face. Often the jaw pain is triggered by everyday actions such as brushing your teeth, shaving, speaking, and even a gentle breeze.
  • Central: Central neurologic causes such as headaches and migraines can also be associated with severe jaw pain. Often the pain will be associated with eye pain that radiates to the jaw.

Inflammatory

Causes related to inflammation of the jaw may include the following.

  • Infection: Infection of different components of the face can cause pressure and jaw pain. For example, sinusitis is an infection of the air-filled cavities (sinuses) in the face [2]. When the sinuses become infected, drainage of mucus and fluids is obstructed. The excess mucus can put extreme pressure on the face and radiate to the jaw. Similarly, the bones of the jaw themselves can become infected. This condition is known as osteomyelitis [3].

  • Vasculitis: Vasculitis is the umbrella term for inflammation of the blood vessels. Some autoimmune diseases can cause inflammation of the blood vessels in your head leading to facial pain that can radiate to the jaw. One such condition is called Giant Cell Arteritis or Temporal Arteritis.

  • Arthritis: Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness of the bones and joints. Though less common, arthritic processes can affect the parts of the jaw resulting in difficulties in movement and pain.

Dental

Since the teeth are in such close proximity to the jaw, conditions that directly affect the teeth can result in severe jaw pain [4]. For example, an infection that specifically affects the teeth can result in abscesses (collections of pus due to infection) that can radiate to the jaw. Mechanical habits such as teeth grinding and jaw clenching can also cause severe jaw pain over a period of time.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Severe Jaw Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced severe 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

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  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
  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.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
  7. 7.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

Severe Jaw Pain Treatments and Relief

The recommended at-home treatment described below — applying ice or heat — is only a temporary solution. You should seek professional treatment for severe jaw pain sooner than later.

At-home treatments

If you experience an episode of severe jaw pain at home, applying ice or heat can provide immediate relief. Put an ice pack on your face wrapped in a towel every 15 minutes in order to reduce pain. Applying heat can help relax muscles and relieve pain as well.

Medical treatments

It is necessary to make an appointment with your physician in order to get treatment such as:

  • Pain medication: Your physician may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to fight pain as well as inflammation that may be contributing to your severe jaw pain.
  • Anticonvulsants: Several anticonvulsant medications are used to combat nerve pain and your physician may prescribe medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or carbamazepine.
  • Antibiotics: If your severe jaw pain is due to infectious causes due to bacteria affecting your sinuses, your physician will prescribe the appropriate antibiotic medication to combat your symptoms. Viral causes will not resolve with antibiotics, and your physician will most likely suggest supportive remedies if that is the case.
  • Surgery: There are surgical procedures that can destroy nerve fibers in the face to reduce pain symptoms, especially for the neurological causes of severe jaw pain. Non-invasive and invasive surgeries can also be used to relieve pain caused by TMJ disorders.

Seek immediate treatment for the following

The following could be signs of Temporal Arteritis which must be treated quickly as this disease can severely damage vision [5]:

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Severe Jaw Pain

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

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

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Severe Jaw Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced severe jaw pain have also experienced:

    • 3% Headache
    • 3% Pain in One Ear Canal
    • 3% Toothache
  • People who have experienced severe jaw pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 35% Less Than a Week
    • 34% Less Than a Day
    • 15% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced severe 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”).

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References

  1. Gauer RL, Semidey MJ. Diagnosis and Treatment of Temporomandibular Disorders. American Family Physician. 2015;91(6):378-386. AAFP Link
  2. Acute Sinusitis. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published May 2015. Harvard Health Publishing Link
  3. Pincus DJ, Armstrong MB, Thaller SR. Osteomyelitis of the Craniofacial Skeleton. Seminars in Plastic Surgery. 2009;23(2):73-79. NCBI Link
  4. Robertson DP, Keys W, Rautemaa-Richardson R, Burns R, Smith AJ. Management of Severe Acute Dental Infections. BMJ. 2015;350. BMJ Link
  5. Giant Cell Arteritis. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated August 10, 2018. MedlinePlus Link