Pain in the jaw joint can be a result of many issues, including temporomandibular joint disorder.
Sore Jaw Symptoms and Causes
The jaw joint is also known as the TMJ or temporomandibular joint. A patient complaining of jaw joint pain may have tightness in the jaw, the jaw clicking when eating, perhaps the right side of the jaw hurts, or there could be sharp pains on the left side, for example. A sore jaw joint might indicate inflammation of a joint, or a patient may experience lock jaw. These symptoms could arise from dental alignment issues, temporomandibular joint syndrome or temporomandibular joint disorder, or trigeminal neuralgia. TMJ jaw popping is another symptom of TMJ syndrome or TMJ disorder that can lead to discomfort, where the jaw hurts to open. Jaw pain can be on one or both sides, and the issues can arise when the patient is resting or chewing. The pain in the jaw could lead to trouble chewing, tooth pain, or tenderness in the neck or face. There are other diseases that can lead to jaw pain, such as heart disease, arthritis, or trigeminal neuralgia. TMD, or disorder of the TMJ, and trigeminal neuralgia are unrelated conditions. Trigeminal neuralgia is a nervous system condition that leads to facial pain.1 TMD is more common in women, and in people between 20 and 40 years old. Whiplash could lead to TMD, as could a heavy blow or other injury. Teeth grinding and stress also can lead to jaw pain. As a result, the patient’s jaw may become locked or stuck open or closed. Popping and clicking might be painful or painless. Facial swelling is another possibility. Related conditions could include dizziness, toothaches, earaches, tinnitus, upper shoulder pain, and neck pain.2 TMJ syndrome also might be a result of joint cartilage damage or disk erosion. If the condition is severe enough, some patients may need surgery for their TMJ disorder.3
TMD and lock jaw treatment are important. Some of the remedies can be taken care of at home, such as using ice packs, taking anti-inflammatory medication, performing massage, relaxation and reduction of stress, avoiding gum chewing, and eating soft foods. If home treatment is ineffective, a dental splint and medication (muscle relaxers, steroids, etc.) may be prescribed. Physiotherapy, massage, and chiropractic care can also be effective. These more conservative treatments may help patients avoid surgery. It is possible to prevent episodes of TMD by having proper posture, practicing relaxation techniques, and using any necessary dental appliances. Besides any night guard or splints, patients may also wish to use mouth guards during sports and exercise.4 Care providers, such as chiropractors, can advise about jaw stretches and exercises. Surgery and implants are irreversible options. Massage therapy can be very effective for patients who grind their teeth (bruxism), with the focus on the masseter muscle. This can resolve the headaches and other pain associated with TMD.6 Chiropractors could recommend massage, perform manipulation, use heat and cold therapy, suggest TMD exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles, and perhaps co-manage care with an orthodontist or dentist, if an appliance is needed.7
Learn more about alternative treatements for jaw problems.