What are the possible causes of jaw aches and pain?

By: Dzhingarov

Jaw pain is relatively common; there are various possible causes, but one of the most common is temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ disorder, also known as TMD).


What is temporomandibular joint disorder?

Temporomandibular joint disorder affects the temporomandibular joint (TMJ); this is the joint that joins the lower jaw to the skull. If you place your fingers in front of your ears at the side of your face, and move your jaw, you will be able to feel the TMJ moving. The joint is heavily involved in a number of actions, including moving your mouth from side to side, opening your mouth, yawning, chewing and speaking; it is a flexible joint and it is controlled by a number of surrounding muscles and connective tissues.

TMJ disorder is an umbrella term used to describe problems that affect the joint and the facial muscles surrounding the joint; the most common symptoms include jaw ache, stiffness and pain.


What causes TMJ disorder?

In many cases, the exact cause of TMJ disorder is unclear; however, there are a number of risk factors, which include injury to the jaw or the facial muscles, teeth grinding or clenching, injuries to the head or neck, stress, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis and dislocation of the joint.


Symptoms of TMJ disorder

The most common symptoms of TMJ disorder are pain and aches in and around the joint, but it is common to experience additional symptoms, which may include clicking noises and locking sensation, restricted movement (you may experience pain when you open your mouth and find it difficult to open wide), pain when chewing or biting down, stiffness in the joint, muscle fatigue, tenderness around the joint, headaches, toothache, shoulder pain, ringing in the areas and swelling (this is usually on one side of the face).

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By en:user:DRosenbach (en:Image:Deviated midline.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By en:user:DRosenbach (en:Image:Deviated midline.JPG) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What can be done to treat jaw pain?

In most cases self-help techniques can be very effective. Applying ice packs and moist cloths to the joint will help to reduce swelling and pain, while exercising the joint will help to condition the muscles and prevent injury in the future.

If you experience pain when you eat, it is best to stick to soft foods for a while and see if your symptoms improve.

Taking over the counter pain relief will help to reduce pain and swelling; if you still experience pain after taking analgesics, see your doctor or dentist.

If your dentist suspects that you are suffering from jaw pain as a result of clenching or grinding your teeth (also known as bruxism), they may advise you to wear a protective guard at night; this will prevent the teeth from coming into contact with each other and reduce pressure on the TMJ.


In extreme cases, when other treatments have failed, corrective dental treatment (usually orthodontic treatment) may be recommended and surgery may be used as a last resort. The orthodontic treatment does not have to be a massive hindrance to your life. Many dislike the idea of braces because of how they look, for those people a treatment such as Invisalign i7 would be ideal.