What Causes a Sore Jaw?

Last Updated: 26/05/2017

Cerezen Team

What Causes a Sore Jaw?
4.33 (86.67%) 6 votes

Jaw ache can happen all of a sudden, or it can start off as a mild ache that becomes progressively worse. It can linger or come and go, and varies from a dull ache to constant throbbing. To understand the symptoms and find relief for jaw pain, you must firstly identify the cause. Only when you know what’s causing it, can you properly treat it.

Here are some jaw pain causes to look out for:

1. Teeth Grinding 

If you wake up with severe pain in your jaw, teeth grinding could be the problem. Teeth grinding occurs when you move your jaw while clenching. It often happens during sleep, and is commonly caused by stress and anxiety. As with any muscle that’s overused, the jaw muscles cramp, causing ache and pain. Our blog has some advice on jaw clenching pain and remedies here.

Main Causes of a Sore Jaw


2. Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) 

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the triangle-shaped area below the ear that connects the mandible or lower jaw to the temporal bone or skull. It allows you to move your jaw up and down, and from side to side. 

Sore Jaw Due to Temporomandibular Disorders

Temporomandibular disorders, also known as TMD, are problems associated with the jaw and facial muscles that control it.

Common causes of TMD include:

  • Teeth grinding or clenching: Grinding or clenching your teeth adds pressure to the joint and can cause pain
  • Jaw injury: A heavy blow to the jaw, or whiplash can lead to TMD
  • Incorrect posture: Daily activities such as sitting at the computer or sleeping on your side can push your jaw out of its proper spot

    The most common symptom of TMD is a popping or clicking sound when opening the mouth or chewing. Other symptoms include toothache, headache and dizziness. Some patients complain of earache or ringing in the ears.
    Several treatment options are available to those with TMD

  • Medication – certain pain relievers and anti-inflammatories can greatly reduce the pain and swelling in your jaw joint
  • Occlusal appliances – your dentist can prescribe a mouth guard or oral splint to provide relief from clenching and grinding
  • Therapy – physical therapy and massage are ideal treatment options to help release tension and strengthen the jaw muscles

Your dentist will suggest the best solution for you, so discuss any sore jaw issues you’re experiencing with him or her.

3. Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. The infection can spread through the bloodstream into the bone, or the bone can be exposed to infection from an open fracture. 

Main Causes of a Sore Jaw

Osteomyelitis of the jaw is rare but when it happens, it can cause serious problems with the bones of the face and jaw. If a person has osteomyelitis of the jaw, the TMJ is affected. It can cause sudden jaw pain, jaw stiffness, facial swelling and headaches or neck aches.

Commons causes of this condition are poor oral hygiene, or complications following oral surgery such as a root canal procedure. It can be treated successfully with antibiotics and physical therapy.

4. Abscessed Tooth 

An abscessed tooth is caused by an infection at the root of a tooth or between the gum and the tooth. It often results from a cavity that’s left untreated. If you feel jaw pain on one side, you might have a problem with an abscessed tooth. Other causes include gum disease, or a chipped or broken tooth.

 Painful Jaw Due to Abscessed Tooth

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Pain when chewing
  • Sensitivity of the teeth to hot or cold
  • Swollen jaw (upper and lower jaw)
  • Discomfort

To treat an abscessed tooth, the tooth may need to be drained. This drainage is normally done by root canal treatment. To prevent an abscessed tooth, and any jaw ache as its result, go for regular dental check-ups and treat a cavity as soon as possible.


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