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10 Most Common Causes of Jaw Pain and How To Treat Them

Identifying the Cause of Your Jaw Pain

Jaw pain is a condition that negatively affects your quality of life. The important thing to recognize about jaw pain is that finding its root cause can significantly impact your treatment and long-term maintenance. If you experience jaw pain, you should not ignore it because while some people know the cause of their discomfort, others who do not could have a serious condition that requires immediate attention. 

For example, some people can pinpoint the exact cause of their jaw pain, like if they get injured in an accident. Others suffer for months or years with this debilitating symptom, and it takes a consult with their family dentist in Wasilla, Alaska, to find out the cause of their jaw pain and how to treat it. Let’s look at the most likely causes of your jaw pain.

1. Stress

Stress is a very common condition, especially around holidays, new jobs, and life-changing events. Everyone manages stress differently, but it is well known that many people tend to clench their teeth during the day or grind their teeth while asleep when they experience anxiety. Clenching and grinding, also called bruxism, can cause damage such as enamel wear, tooth and restoration fractures, headaches, and jaw pain. 

One of the best things you can do for yourself is identify and manage your stress triggers to avoid overall anxiety and tooth damage. Speak with your dentist about getting a custom-fabricated mouth guard to help protect your teeth from bruxism and to avoid further dental problems. We highly recommend a daytime mouth guard if you clench while you’re awake, and it is thinner and less noticeable than a typical nighttime mouth guard. 

2. Toxic Habits

Chewing gum is a popular way to relieve stress, but if you happen to overuse your chewing muscles by constantly chewing gum, pencils, etc., you can cause considerable jaw pain. The good news is that you can cease those chronic habits and resolve your discomfort. But if you need to chew gum, try to choose one that is sugar free or contains xylitol to stimulate saliva production and decrease your risk of tooth decay.

Excessive chewing habits can cause temporomandibular joint (TMJ) discomfort because they place too much physical stress on the cartilage discs within the joints. You can help manage this stress through muscle rest, physical therapy, and a soft-food diet.

3. Toothache

Untreated tooth decay can lead to pain, infection, and eventually tooth loss. A toothache can cause pain not only in the area of a cavity but also through your entire jaw and head. If a toothache worsens, it can cause facial cellulitis, which is a swelling of the face. This is a serious condition that can affect your overall health. 

If you have a small cavity, you should have it filled as soon as possible to prevent these symptoms. If you already have a toothache, reach out to your family dentist in Wasilla to schedule an evaluation for needed treatment. 

4. Nerve Condition

If you have a sharp, shocklike pain around your face, it could indicate a condition called trigeminal neuralgia. Symptoms vary among patients, but the most commonly reported symptoms are constant burning, persistent aching, or electric-shock sensations. Trigeminal neuralgia is caused by compression of the trigeminal nerve. Some possible causes of this pressure are a cyst, tumor, injury, or other medical condition that damages the myelin sheath surrounding the nerve. 

Diagnosis is difficult because there is no specific test, but treatment can be either nonsurgical, such as an anticonvulsant medication, or surgical, such as a decompression procedure.

5. Trauma

An injury is always unpredictable, but when one occurs, it can cause serious damage, including fractured teeth, soft-tissue damage, and jaw fractures. If you experience trauma to the face, it is always recommended to go to your local emergency room to ensure you don’t have any fractures. A fracture is not always noticeable, and you will need advanced imaging to diagnose it. 

If you have jaw pain after trauma from a fall, car accident, or sports injury, you may need a splint to prevent further damage. You are typically referred back to your general dentist for a follow-up so they can monitor healing and treating any tooth damage. 

6. Missing Teeth

If you are missing teeth, you are not alone. There are numerous reasons people have missing teeth, including congenital conditions, tooth decay, and gum disease. Missing teeth can cause problems like shifting and make it difficult to chew if teeth are not aligned properly. 

Missing teeth should be replaced, whether by a removable appliance like a denture or permanent appliances like bridges or dental implants. Leaving missing teeth can cause opposing and adjacent teeth to supererupt, which can in turn cause gum tissue damage or TMJ stress. 

7. Malocclusion

Millions of Americans have malocclusion, or improper bite, that they are totally unaware of. Just because your teeth appear straight does not mean your bite is ideal. A misaligned bite can increase your risks of serious dental issues like tooth decay, chewing problems, and TMJ pain. 

Malocclusion can be diagnosed by your dentist or orthodontist and corrected using braces or clear aligners. Fixing your malocclusion not only creates a straight smile but also aligns your bite, improves your facial profile, and prevents long-term problems like TMJ discomfort. 

8. Arthritis 

One common cause of jaw pain is arthritis, which can affect all areas of the body. If arthritis is the cause of a patient’s jaw pain, they may notice a crackling or creaking noise when they open and close. 

The most common symptoms of arthritis in the TMJ are jaw stiffness, jaw pain, crackling when chewing, depression, fatigue, and headaches. Your dentist can often diagnose this condition from X-rays by looking for changes in the TMJ. Unfortunately it is a chronic condition, but it can be managed by physical therapy, a mouth guard, heat and cold therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication. 

9. Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth eruption is similar to teething in that some people feel nothing, while others feel severe discomfort. Wisdom teeth can cause pain by pushing against adjacent teeth as they try to erupt. They can also lead to a condition called pericoronitis; this occurs when a piece of gum tissue covers a portion of the tooth, trapping debris and causing inflammation.

The treatment for wisdom teeth is often extraction. If you have an active infection, your dentist may first prescribe antibiotics or a special rinse.

10. Cysts or Tumors

Sometimes a cyst or tumor can cause swelling and pressure in your jaw as well. To diagnose this condition, your dentist may take several types of X-rays, including a cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) scan. A biopsy is often performed, and once the results are in, treatment is planned accordingly.

You don’t have to suffer through your symptoms.

Jaw pain can range from mild to debilitating, but either way it affects your quality of life. If you experience jaw pain, do not give it a chance to create long-term dental problems. Speak with your dentist about early treatment options like a mouth guard or physical therapy so that you can get on your way to recovery!

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