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

Jaw pain can indicate a broad range of dental issues, from a toothache to TMJ Disorder or perhaps a more serious condition. Here, our Burnaby dentist explains potential causes of jaw pain and what to do with sore joints. 

What causes jaw pain?

Are you experiencing persistent jaw pain? This can indicate a dental issue such as a toothache, TMJ disorder or potentially a more serious condition. 

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 an integral role in your everyday life, helping you to speak, eat and breathe. 

When there is an issue with your jaw and facial muscles, TMJ Disorders can occur. If this disorder advances to a severe state after you start to experience pain in this area, you may eventually be unable to move the joint. 

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

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

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

  • Pain or ache around your jaw, face or ears
  • Ringing in ears
  • Constant headaches
  • Locking or popping in your jaw
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness

If you suspect a problem with your TMJ, see your dentist so he or she can recommend treatment or exercises. Sometimes, prescription drugs or surgery may be required to address the issue.


Though we take many routine vaccines in childhood that have fortunately gotten rid of diseases, it’s still possible to get diseases that can cause jaw pain and other symptoms.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause your jaw muscles to stiffen or feel tight. This serious condition can result in spending weeks in hospital.


Just like other bones in your body, your jaw can become fractured or dislocated. After taking a blow to the jaw, you may experience:

  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Swelling
  • Bruises
  • Pain

Depending on what your injury is, you may need to see your dentist if you are missing teeth, are unable to chew or open and close your mouth, or if the pain doesn't disappear. It may help to take over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen, along with getting any necessary dental treatment. 

Dental Issues

Numerous dental issues can lead to a sore jaw. These can include:

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

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

While odontogenic cysts or tumors are not typically cancerous, they can quickly start to impact your teeth. You may require surgery to remove them. 

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.


A type of infection that occurs in the bone, this condition can impact your mandible (lower jaw). Referred to as anaerobic osteomyelitis, it can cut off blood supply to your jaw and damage bone tissue if left untreated.

How can I get rid of jaw pain?

At-Home Care

  • Apply a warm, wet washcloth or ice pack covered in cloth to your jaw (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off)
  • Avoid caffeine (which can potentially contribute to muscle tension)
  • 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.

Dental Care

If you have tried at-home remedies and your jaw pain persists, schedule an appointment with your dentist. 

Our dentist at Marine Way Dental Centre will discuss your symptoms with you, perform 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.

Are you experiencing jaw pain? Contact our Burnaby dentist to book an appointment today.

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