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Woman with Jaw pain

Unmasking the Mystery of Jaw Pain: Causes and Treatment Options

The reality is that pain in your jaw may really be “just in your head” but those signals being sent to your brain are very real and very important.

Those suffering from pain in their jaw may be asking the following questions:

  • What conditions or issues could be causing the pain in my jaw?
  • What dental specialist or oral surgeon should I seek treatment for pain in my jaw?
  • What outcomes or solutions can help treat my jaw pain?

Pain in the Jaw Can be Uncomfortable and Distressing

Experiencing pain anywhere in the body is unpleasant but experiencing pain in the jaw can be a distressing and uncomfortable sensation.

The jaw may be an afterthought for many of us, but the jaw plays a crucial role in everyday activities like speaking, chewing, and expressing emotions (yes, facial muscles attached to your jaw not only help you chew but also support your smile!).

“Your jaw works hard every day so you can laugh, talk, smile, and eat. When it’s working properly, you may not give it much thought. But if your jaw starts to hurt, it can take the joy out of simple, everyday things,” says the National Institute of Health (NIH) newsletter.

Jaw pain is a relatively common complaint, affecting a significant number of individuals. It can be caused by various factors, including dental issues, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, trauma, or underlying medical conditions.

The prevalence of jaw pain varies, but it is not uncommon among the general population with NIH estimating that more than 10 million Americans live with jaw pain and dysfunction.

Whom to Call When You Have a Pain in Your Jaw

Depending on the suspected cause and nature of your jaw pain, you may consider consulting:

  • Dentist: Dentists are experts in oral health and can address jaw pain caused by dental conditions, such as tooth decay, abscesses, or gum disease.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: These specialists, such as the board-certified staff at Norwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, have extensive training in surgical procedures involving the mouth, jaw, and face. They can diagnose and treat complex issues like jaw fractures, TMJ disorders, or oral tumors.
  • Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Specialist: ENT specialists can evaluate and manage jaw pain associated with conditions like sinus infections, salivary gland disorders, or throat infections.
  • Neurologist: Neurologists specialize in conditions affecting the nervous system, including facial neuralgia or trigeminal neuralgia, which can cause jaw pain.
  • Rheumatologist: Rheumatologists focus on conditions affecting joints, muscles, and connective tissues, such as rheumatoid arthritis that may contribute to jaw pain.

10 Common Conditions That Might Cause Jaw Pain

The NIH points out that the jaw joint is one of the most complex joints in the human body.

“For most people, it moves effortlessly up and down, side to side, and in and out, transitioning from one movement to the next seamlessly,” says the NIH.

So, when your jaw works as expected, we tend to forget about it, but when things aren’t working as they should we often feel pain.

Jaw pain can be associated with several conditions. Here are 10 common issues:

  1. TMJ Disorders (TMD): Possible causes include jaw misalignment, teeth grinding, stress, or arthritis.

  2. Dental Abscess: Infection of a tooth or gum can lead to severe jaw pain.

  3. Bruxism: Teeth grinding or clenching can cause jaw pain and dental problems.

  4. Jaw Fractures: Trauma, accidents, or pathology can result in jaw fractures.

  5. Myofascial Pain Syndrome: This condition involves trigger points and muscle pain in the jaw and neck.

  6. Sinusitis (Sinus Infection): Inflammation of the sinus lining leading to facial pain, headaches, or nasal congestion and/or drainage.

  7. Trigeminal Neuralgia: Chronic pain condition affecting the trigeminal nerve. Certain branches of this nerve are responsible for sending pain signals from the face to the brain. Usually triggered by mild stimuli such as touching, eating, or even speaking.

  8. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Chronic autoimmune condition affecting primarily joints causing inflammation and pain.

  9. Salivary Gland Disorders: Salivary glands are responsible for producing saliva, which is responsible for digestion and oral health. Issues can range from salivary gland hypofunction, gland obstructions, and even benign or malignant tumors.

  10. Oral Cancer: Cancers that develop in the lips, tongue, floor of mouth, cheeks, gums, hard and soft palate. A serious condition that needs prompt attention.

Jaw Pain: Diagnosis and Treatment

The diagnostic process for jaw pain depends on the suspected underlying condition.

Specialists conduct physical examinations, order imaging tests, perform biopsies, or collaborate with other healthcare professionals for a comprehensive evaluation.

Treatment options will vary based on the specific diagnosis. Here's a brief overview:

  • Diagnostic Tests: These may include dental X-rays, CT scans, MRI, or blood tests to identify the cause of jaw pain accurately.
  • Conservative Treatments: Depending on the condition, treatments may include pain medications, antibiotics, warm or cold compresses, lifestyle modifications, stress management techniques, physical therapy, or oral splints.
  • Dental Procedures: Dental conditions often require interventions like fillings, root canal therapy, tooth extraction, or periodontal treatment.
  • Surgical Interventions: For certain conditions, such as jaw fractures, TMJ disorders, or oral cancer, surgery may be necessary. This can range from minimally invasive procedures to more complex surgeries performed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons or other specialists.
  • Medications: Medications like analgesics, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, or disease-modifying drugs may be prescribed to manage pain, inflammation, or underlying conditions.

Jaw pain can significantly impact your daily life and may indicate various underlying conditions, so it’s important to consult with healthcare professionals for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific condition and needs.

Early intervention and comprehensive care can help alleviate your jaw pain and restore normal function.

Contact Northwest Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery today to schedule a consultation if you're experiencing persistent or severe jaw pain.

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