Severe Jaw Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your severe jaw pain symptoms, including 7 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 7 Possible Severe Jaw Pain Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  6. Statistics
  7. Related Articles
  8. References

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.

Common characteristics of severe jaw pain

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

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.

7 Possible Severe Jaw Pain Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced severe jaw pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.

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

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.

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

Myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is also called chronic myofascial pain (CMP.) Pressure on certain points of the muscles causes referred pain, meaning the pain is felt elsewhere in the body.

The cause is believed to be muscle injury through overuse, either from sports or from a job requiring repetitive motion. Tension, stress, and poor posture can also cause habitual tightening of the muscles, a form of overuse.

This overuse causes scar tissue, or adhesions, to form in the muscles. These points are known as trigger points, since they trigger pain at any stimulus.

Symptoms include deep, aching muscular pain that does not go away with rest or massage, but may actually worsen. There is often difficulty sleeping due to pain.

Myofascial pain syndrome should be seen by a medical provider, since it can develop into a similar but more severe condition called fibromyalgia.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and applying mild pressure to locate the trigger points.

Treatment involves physical therapy, pain medications, and trigger point injections. In some cases, acupuncture and antidepressants are helpful.

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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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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you been experiencing dizziness?
  • Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • 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

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your severe jaw pain. These questions are also covered.

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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 were most often matched with:

  • 37% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
  • 37% Myofascial Pain Syndrome
  • 25% Acute Salivary Duct Stone (Sialolithiasis)

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

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Severe Jaw Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your severe jaw pain

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