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Jaw Pain – Why Does My Jaw Hurt?

Jaw Pain – Why Does My Jaw Hurt?

Do you ever notice jaw pain when opening your mouth? What about popping or clicking on one side of your jaw? Are you noticing pain in your TMJ (jaw joint), or ear? If so, your sore jaw could be due to overuse or a disorder of your TMJ. Since the muscles around your jaw also attach at points throughout your face, scalp, neck and shoulders, it’s common to experience muscle pain and fatigue in addition to your jaw discomfort.

Sore Jaw Causes

  • Bruxism (Clenching and Grinding)

Constant clenching and tension can strain any joint. If you’re always grinding your teeth or gritting your jaw, it’s just a matter of time before you begin to experience a sore TMJ. Bruxism is something that can happen any time of the day, including when you sleep. Eventually, it doesn’t just hurt your jaw; it can also cause your tooth enamel to wear down. Flat or sharp tooth edges are quite common. If left untreated, even your dental work could start to break over time.

  • Stress

There’s not a lot that we can do about a stressful lifestyle. Whether it’s because of our job, a pandemic, family problems, or something else going on in our lives, stress can eventually start to work at you physically in a number of ways. Jaw pain is just one of them. A lot of stress-induced jaw pain ties back to how we manage the tension in our lives. Are we clenching our teeth together because of frustration? Do we tighten our muscles when we’re focusing on a detailed job? Your jaw, neck, shoulders, and back may all eventually start to ache.

  • Sleeping Disorders

Did you know that jaw pain is extremely common in people who have obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)? Sleep apnoea causes oxygen deprivation to our brain when we’re sleeping. And when our blood oxygen levels drop, our jaw tends to tighten, clenching our teeth together and sealing off our upper airway. That’s why so many people mistake jaw problems for sleeping disorders or vice versa. The two are quite closely related.

  • Abscessed Teeth

An abscessed tooth and the nerve pain associated with it can create all types of referred pain. From sinus infections to earaches to TMJ soreness, inflammation at the tip of a root can press against all of the neighbouring structures. If it’s a tooth in the back of your mouth, the referred pain may make it feel as if your jaw is what’s hurting and not your tooth at all.

  • Biting Your Nails

Do you have a nail-biting habit? If so, you’re moving your jaw in an odd position to bite end-on-end at the front of your mouth several times a day. This habit can lead to recurring, atypical movements inside of your TMJ. Eventually, you may start to notice jaw pain and headaches.

  • TMJ Disorder

Clinical disorder of your TMJ is referred to as “temporomandibular joint disorder” or “TMD” or “TMJD”. While actual TMD is fairly less common than chronic joint pain, it can be debilitating. Especially if it interferes with your ability to eat, talk, or even go to work for the day.

Do I have TMJ?

TMJ pain is common every now and then, but chronic discomfort in your jaw joint is not. Clinical TMJ disorder (TMJD) is not a common condition, but many people still experience TMJ problems because of factors like those mentioned above.

To determine if you have TMJD, you will need to have a physical exam of your joints, including an X-ray. Most people with TMJ concerns will experience significant jaw pain, headaches, muscle soreness, earaches, and difficulty eating.

Fortunately, the best way to manage TMJ pain is through holistic, non-surgical treatment approaches.

Jaw Pain Relief

If you only experience jaw pain from time to time, the best way to manage sore jaw symptoms can include:

  • Relaxation Exercises and Working Out

Practicing relaxation, mindfulness, or even getting your endorphins pumping through rigorous exercises are great ways to ease muscle tension. Perhaps yoga and meditation are helpful with easing your TMJ and surrounding muscles. Being aware of your triggers and when your face is tense can help you to “train” yourself to relax those tissues. But so can a daily walk outdoors, going on a morning jog, or riding a bicycle. When your body is able to move more frequently, it eases tension and stress from head to toe.

  • Physical Massage

Using your fingertips, make soft, circular motions around your jaw, temples, and throughout your face and scalp. Just like a massage can ease neck or shoulder pain, it can help with a sore jaw.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Pain Relievers

For temporary jaw pain relief, the best medication to take over-the-counter is an anti-inflammatory such as Motrin or ibuprofen. Always take medications as directed. As an anti-inflammatory, these drugs reduce swelling around the joint to lessen the tugging and pushing on your soft tissues.

  • Moist Heat

Along with a pain reliever, applying warm, moist heat is great for reducing jaw discomfort. We recommend only applying it for about 20 minutes at a time, taking a 20-minute break, and then reapplying it if needed. Warm compresses work best for jaw pain, as opposed to using colder temperatures.

  • A Soft Diet

Eating hard, crunchy, chewy foods can cause major TMJ flare-ups. If you’re experiencing jaw pain, it’s best to go ahead and switch to a soft diet for the time being. It may take a few days for symptoms to subside, so don’t rush it. People who tend to experience jaw pain on a frequent basis should typically steer clear of chewing gum or eating foods with particularly hard textures.

If pain continues for more than a couple of days or is new and severe, be sure to phone us. We can arrange an appointment to fully evaluate your joints, bones, internal tissues like the disc (as seen on your X-ray) and assess your range of motion. Depending on the extent of joint damage and what your risk factors are, we can help you create a care plan to manage your TMJ symptoms.

Consultation & Diagnosis

During your TMJ evaluation, we will physically palpate both jaw joints as you move your mouth. A full-mouth X-ray will also show us if any joint or bone damage has occurred. We will also check to see how your teeth bite together and if there are any signs of advanced wear, as TMJ overuse can significantly contribute to joint pain and headaches. Depending on your diagnosis, we will then determine the best treatment for your circumstances.

Be sure to share with us what home relief methods you have already tried. We will also want to perform a thorough medical and dental screening to rule out any potential risk factors, such as stress or sleeping disorders.

TMJ Treatment

There are quite a few non-surgical ways to manage TMJ pain. Dermal injectables such as Botox are one great example. Since Botox is a natural muscle relaxer, it can be used to semi-release those muscles around your TMJ for a few months or more at a time. This technique eliminates the need to take prescription medication, which can interfere with your ability to focus. Botox is completely natural, and the effects begin working as quickly as within a few days. By applying it at regular intervals throughout the year, you can maintain muscle relief on a long-term basis.

Some people also see improvement in their TMJ symptoms by wearing a bite splint during the day (if they clench out of stress) or nightguard when they sleep (for grinding). When you have this small prop in your mouth, it prevents your TMJ from fully engaging and clenching the muscles as tight as normal. When you’re sleeping or focusing on work, it trains your jaw to relax. But they also prevent tooth-on-tooth enamel wear, preserving your smile for the long term.

And finally, orthodontic therapy is also occasionally worked into TMJ treatment plans. Since the alignment of your teeth and jaws impact how you bite and chew, some people may see TMJ overuse, resulting in pain. By aligning your teeth for a proper biting relationship, your TMJ can function at optimal performance without unnecessary joint strain.

Research continues to show that non-surgical TMJ treatments such as cosmetic injectables continue to be the most effective for patients. Invasive oral surgeries tend to be reserved as a last resort and only in the most extreme of chronic TMJ disorder situations.

Why See a Dentist for TMJ Treatment?

Dentists are experts when it comes to oral health and wellness. But teeth aren’t the only thing they care for! Your gums, bone, and yes—your TMJ—all make up the oral anatomy that dentists work with every day. So, if you’re experiencing jaw pain or symptoms of discomfort, a dentist can be one of your best professional resources for screening or treatment of TMJ pain.

If you suspect that you have TMJ disorder or frequently suffer from a sore jaw, contact Hawthorn Road Family Dental to schedule an appointment with one of our dentists today.

Dr. Mahima Krongold

Dr. Mahima Krongold

Dr Krongold has been practicing dentistry for over twenty years. She has background experience dealing with a diverse range of dental issues, which vary significantly from individual to individual. Her experience has been built upon by her endless thirst for practical and technological advancement in the field of crowns, implants, bridge work, root canals, endodontics, teeth whitening and cosmetic work. Dr Krongold is a family dentist with three children. Children's dentistry is a specialised area for her, particularly encompassing oral hygiene and dental comfort.

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