Are you noticing that your jaw hurts on one side when you wake up in the morning? Or perhaps you're experiencing jaw pain on both sides or one side (the left side or right side) of your jaw during the day. Whether you’re trying to concentrate at work, hanging out with friends and family or relaxing at home, there is nothing more distracting and irritating than to be experiencing jaw pain on a daily basis. However, there are many causes of jaw pain so if you’re seeking to treat the issue it’s important to diagnose the reasons behind why you’re experiencing such pain. Your jaw can be more delicate than you might realise which is why any clenching or overactivity can lead to discomfort on one side of your jaw.
The jaw refers to each of the upper and lower bony structures in vertebrates that form the framework of the mouth and act as receptacles for the teeth. Jaw pain tends to be associated with the lower jaw, or mandible, which is the strongest bone in the face. It articulates on either side with the temporal bone to form the temporomandibular joint, often abbreviated to TMJ. The TMJ is a hinge joint that allows you to do everyday tasks such as eat, swallow, talk and yawn. Problems with this area can cause soreness of the jaw and knowledge of this anatomy helps in the correct diagnosis of jaw pain, whether it be mild or severe.
Temporomandibular disorders, also known as TMD or TMJ disorders, refers to a disorder that causes these joints and the hinge muscle discussed above to function improperly. It is characterised by the clicking or popping of the jaw and difficulty opening the mouth. You may feel pain and tenderness of the jaw, aching around the ears and your jaw may hurt while chewing or swallowing.
Bruxism, commonly known as teeth grinding, is one of the leading causes of jaw pain. Bruxism refers to the grinding or clenching of the teeth that serves no function, so it is not associated with chewing or eating. A lot of sufferers grind their teeth in their sleep and these leads to severe damage and destruction of the teeth, infections in the gums and fatigued jaw joints. Nighttime grinding is worse than during the day because your protective reflexes turn off while you’re asleep, meaning that the grinding can be a lot more severe. Most people will wake up with jaw pain or discomfort, sometimes on one side (either the left side or the right side) of their face. Stress and anxiety as well as stimulants like drugs and caffeine, are the main causes of teeth grinding.
Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone caused by a bacteria, that travels through the body’s bloodstream and can affect both bones and tissue. Osteomyelitis of the jaw impacts the TMJ and leads to jaw pain, facial swelling and fever. Usually the infection is the result of the bacteria entering the body because of poor oral hygiene, following an oral surgery or procedure or due to a jaw fracture. It is more common in men than women and usually occurs in the mandible (lower jaw bone) rather than the maxilla.
An abscessed tooth is another common cause of jaw and facial pain. These occur when the dental pulp, containing nerves, tissue and blood vessels, is exposed and and gets infected as a result. This infection then spreads to the gum and bone and leads to pain in the entire oral cavity as well as the jaw.
Applying a heated pad or ice pack to the affected area for ten minutes, then taking it off and reapplying it, can help to soothe the pain of a sore jaw. Heat helps to relax an overactive jaw muscle while the cold helps to reduce swelling.
Pain relievers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help to reduce your discomfort throughout the day.
Massaging the muscles of the jaw can help to relieve tension in the area and soothe fatigued muscles and joints. Use your index and middle fingers to rub sore areas in a circular motion. Massaging the neck may also help.
The best prevention method is dependant on the cause of your jaw pain. For example, if you’re suffering from osteomyelitis it is likely you’ll need antibiotics to get rid of the infection.
Investing in a nightguard can help to ensure that you don’t grind or clench your teeth while asleep which will prevent you feeling jaw pain in the morning and throughout the day. It serves as a protective tool for your teeth and can help reduce how often you grind your teeth in the long-term.
Both TMDs and teeth grinding are related to stress and anxiety. As a result, reducing your everyday stress and learning stress-management techniques can have an impact on the amount of jaw pain you experience. Meditation, mindfulness, regular exercise and spending time with loved ones can help to reduce stress.
Regular check-ups to your dentist helps to keep your teeth, gum and jaw in great condition and will prevent any potential oral problems that arise from getting any worse. If you ever experience unusually severe tooth or jaw pain, or if something doesn’t feel quite right in that area, make sure to schedule an appointment. Tooth extraction or a root canal procedure may be necessary in some cases.
If you’re experiencing jaw pain, don’t suffer in silence. We need to use a jaw everyday and so if it becomes sore or painful, it’s vital that you do something about it.