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What Jaw Pain Means: What Causes It and How to Treat It

Jaw pain can point to a dental issue like a toothache, TMJ Disorder, or potentially a more serious condition. Today, our Nepean dentists discuss possible causes of jaw pain and what to do with sore joints. 

What causes jaw pain?

TMJ Disorders

TMJ Disorder is one of the most common causes of jaw pain. The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull's temporal bones (located just below your temple, in front of your ear). This hinge plays a large role in your daily life, allowing you to speak, eat and breathe. 

TMJ Disorders develop when there is an issue with your jaw and facial muscles. If the disorder progresses to a severe state after you begin to experience pain in this area, you may eventually be unable to move the joint. 

Causes of TMJ Disorders may include:

  • Inflammation in the muscles surrounding your jaw
  • Misalignment of the jaw
  • Jaw injury or trauma
  • Certain illnesses or conditions such as arthritis 

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Aches or pain around your ears, face or jaw
  • Popping or locking in your jaw
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Vision issues 

If you think you may be experiencing issues with your TMJ, visit your dentist for an evaluation and treatment recommendations. They can provide guidance on suitable treatments or exercises to address the problem. In some cases, prescription medications or surgical intervention may be necessary to resolve the issue.


Even though we receive routine childhood vaccinations that have successfully eliminated many diseases, there are still cases where certain diseases can lead to symptoms such as jaw pain.

Tetanus, for example, is a bacterial infection that can cause stiffness or tightness in the jaw muscles. This severe condition may require weeks of hospitalization.


Trauma can also affect the jaw, similar to other bones in the body. Jaw fractures or dislocations can occur as a result of a blow to the jaw, leading to symptoms such as loose or missing teeth.

  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Bruises
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Depending on the injury, you may need to see your dentist if the pain doesn’t go away, you are missing teeth or you’re unable to chew or open and close your mouth. Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen may help, in addition to dental treatment if necessary.

Dental Issues

A variety of dental issues can lead to a sore jaw. These can include:

  • Fractured or crowded teeth
  • Toothache (typically with an abscess or cavity as the underlying cause)
  • Teeth grinding
  • Gum disease (which can cause your jaw bone to become damaged)
  • Wisdom teeth erupting
  • Misaligned teeth

These problems should be addressed as soon as possible, and fractured teeth are dental emergencies, so you should see your dentist right away. Until then, keep the tooth that hurts clean and try rinsing with warm water.

Cysts or Tumors

Most odontogenic cysts or tumors, although usually not cancerous, can have a rapid impact on your teeth. In some cases, surgical removal may be necessary to address these conditions.

Cluster Headaches

One of the most painful types of headache, cluster headaches can result in pain around or behind one eye, with pain radiating to reach the jaw.


Anaerobic osteomyelitis is a bone infection that specifically affects the mandible, or lower jaw. If left untreated, it can compromise blood flow to the jaw and cause damage to the bone tissue.

How can I get rid of jaw pain?

At-Home Care

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Rub the affected joint. Massage the joint using your fingers, pressing the sore areas of your jaw and moving to the side of your neck.
  • Avoid caffeine (which can potentially contribute to muscle tension)

Dental Care

If your jaw pain persists after at-home remedies, make an appointment with your dentist.

At Barrhaven South Dentistry, our dentists will discuss your symptoms with you, complete a comprehensive oral examination, explain possible treatment options, and develop a custom treatment plan that may include a mouthguard or other measures depending on your needs. 

In rare cases, oral surgery for TMJ Disorder may be recommended to correct the problem for those with severe pain that suffer from structural problems in their jaw and haven’t found relief with other remedies or treatments.

If you'r experiencing consistent jaw pain, contact our Nepean dentists to book an appointment today.

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