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

Jaw pain can affect your ability to eat and speak, and when severe, jaw pain can be an extremely debilitating condition.

Severe jaw pain often results in symptoms such as:

  • Pain that radiates to or from the ear
  • Pain with chewing
  • Difficulty opening the mouth to eat, drink or take medication (locking sensation)
  • Shooting pains or spasms
  • Tenderness around the nose and eyes
  • Congestion
  • Persistent facial pain

If you experience such severe jaw pain 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

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, moveable part of the jaw. The muscles of the jaw help to facilitate chewing and other movements of the mouth.

Conditions that affect the jaw itself can result in severe pain. However, conditions that affect different parts of the face – sinuses, ears, teeth – can also cause severe jaw pain – making 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 severe jaw pain pain.

Musculoskeletal Severe Jaw Pain Causes

Dysfunction in the different components of the jaw itself is called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. 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 jaw pain symptoms.

Neurologic Severe Jaw Pain Causes

  • Neuropathic. The word neuropathic refers to disruption in nerve functioning. Severe jaw pain symptoms 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 every day 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 Severe Jaw Pain Causes

  • 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. 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.

  • 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/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 Severe Jaw Pain Causes

Since the teeth are in such close proximity to the jaw, conditions that directly affect the teeth can result in severe jaw pain. For example, 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.

10 Potential Severe Jaw Pain Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  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.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
  3. 3.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
  4. 4.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
  5. 5.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  6. 6.Middle Ear Infection

    Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, occur when the tubes that carry sound become clogged with debris like mucus.

    With proper treatment, middle ear infections generally resolve within a week.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, sore throat, new headache, fever, ear canal pain
    Symptoms that always occur with middle ear infection:
    ear canal pain
    Symptoms that never occur with middle ear infection:
    vertigo (extreme dizziness), face weakness, facial numbness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    Most recover within 1 week but cough and malaise can persist for 2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  8. 8.Mononucleosis Infection

    EBV Mononucleosis is a clinical syndrome characterized by fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes.

    2-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal pain (stomach ache), cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Recurrent Migraine

    Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.

    Migraine symptoms may resolve within a day or two, but the condition can come and go for a year or more. If any particular episode is unusually severe or does not respond to your customary treatments, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, history of headaches, fatigue, nausea, mild headache
    Symptoms that always occur with recurrent migraine:
    headache, history of headaches
    Symptoms that never occur with recurrent migraine:
    fever, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Paget Disease of the Bone

    Paget's disease of the bone is a disorder in which the bone recycling process goes astray. It mostly affects people older than 55 years old. While many people with the disease have no symptoms, some suffer from bone pain, abnormal shapes of bone and weaker bones that can break more easily.

    Treatment depends on the severity of disease, however, this is a lifelong condition and treatment may become necessary as the disease progresses.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, pelvis pain, back pain, spontaneous bone pain, moderate hip pain
    Symptoms that always occur with paget disease of the bone:
    spontaneous bone pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Severe Jaw Pain Treatments and Relief

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 severe jaw pain as well.

Nevertheless, applying ice or heat is only a temporary solution. 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 symptoms.
  • Anticonvulsants. Many anticonvulsant medications are used to combat nerve pain and your doctor may prescribe medications such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or carbamazepine.
  • Antibiotics. If your severe jaw pain is due to infectious causes affecting your sinuses, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate antibiotic medication to combat your symptoms. Viral causes will not resolve with antibiotics, and your doctor 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 severe jaw 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 medical attention immediately if you experience sudden onset scalp pain accompanied by fever or visual symptoms. These could be signs of Temporal Arteritis which must be treated quickly as this disease can severely damage vision.

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.Any fever today or during the last week?

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:

    • 4% Headache
    • 3% Pain in One Ear Canal
    • 3% Swollen Jaw
  • People who have experienced severe jaw pain had symptoms persist for:

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

    • 54% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
    • 31% Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)
    • 5% Tooth Abscess (Infection)
  • 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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