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

There are many reasons why you could be experiencing jaw pain such as a TMJ disorder, a toothache, or another more serious problem. Here, our dentists go over some of the common reasons for jaw pain and what you can do to help alleviate the pain. 

What are the common causes of jaw pain?

Jaw pain can be a sign of dental conditions such as TMJ Disorder, toothache, or even a more concerning problem.

TMJ Disorders

TMJ Disorders are one of the most common reasons for jaw pain. The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull (situated just under your temple, in front of your ear). This hinge plays a large role in your everyday life, allowing you to talk, breathe and eat.

People develop TMJ Disorders when they have an issue with their jaw or/and facial muscles. If the disorder worsens to a serious state after experiencing the initial pain in this area, the jaw joint might not be able to move. 

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

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

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

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

If you believe that you have a problem with your TMJ, visit your dentist so they can prescribe treatments or exercises. Sometimes, prescription drugs or surgery will be needed to help resolve the issue.


Even though from childhood we take many routine vaccines that have thankfully gotten rid of many diseases, there are still some diseases out there that could cause jaw pain in addition to other symptoms.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that could make your jaw muscles feel tight or stiffen. This serious condition can lead to several weeks in the hospital.


Just like other bones in the human body, your jaw can get dislocated or fractured. After being hit in the jaw, you could experience:

  • Bruises
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Loose or missing teeth

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 Problems

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

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

Tumors or Cysts

Not typically cancerous, odontogenic cysts or tumors can quickly begin to impact your teeth. Surgery may be required to remove them.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches can be one of the most painful types of headaches, that can cause pain around or behind one eye, and can radiate to 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 help my 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)
  • 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 continues after trying at-home methods, book an appointment with your dentist.

At Wembley Dental Clinic, our dentists will talk to you about your symptoms, conduct a comprehensive oral examination, go over possible treatment options, and establish a customized treatment plan that could include a mouthguard or other measures depending on your needs. 

In rare situations, oral surgery might be recommended to correct a TMJ Disorder, for patients that have severe pain and suffer from structural problems in their jaw and weren't able to find relief with other remedies or treatments.

Contact our dentists in Parksville today if you are feeling pain in your jaw and schedule an appointment. 

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