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Orofacial Pain (Jaw Pain) – What Causes It and How to Treat It

    Pain that is felt in the jaw, mouth, and face is collectively known as orofacial pain, and is often felt on the areas near the jaw. Many cases of orofacial pain are usually a result of dental conditions like toothaches, tooth abscesses, and inflammation of the dental pulp. You can read more about orofacial pain to learn how to deal with it.

    In particular, if pain is felt on the jaw, and is consistent or recurs, then there are multiple possible causes for it, including:

    1. Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder, also known as TMD or TMJ

    Probably the most common cause of orofacial jaw pain, TMD affects close to 15% of all adults in the world. It is a muscle disorder that affects your temporomandibular joint, which serves as  a hinge connecting your jaw to the bones just in front of each ear, called the temporal bones. This joint gives you the ability to move your jaw in a horizontal and vertical direction, which allows you to do things like chewing, yawning, and talking. The bones attached through the TMJ are covered with cartilage and are separated from each other by a small shock-absorbing disk to allow smooth movement for the jaw.

    The temporomandibular joint is one of the most important joints in the body and is also one of the most used. Due to this, it can be easily damaged which can cause orofacial pain felt around the jaw. There are multiple things that can cause this pain to occur, such as:w

    • Pain from the muscles responsible for the movement of the jaw
    • Extreme stimulation to the temporomandibular joint
    • An injury to the temporomandibular joint, especially those that push the joint out of its normal position
    • Arthritis of the shock-absorbing disk that cushions jaw movements
    • Displacement of the shock-absorbing disk that helps cushion the temporomandibular joint

    Some actions that can contribute to developing orofacial pain (jaw pain) due to temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder include the following:

    • Involuntary jaw clenching because of stress or anxiety
    • An injury or trauma to the jaw joint, such as an accidental injury while doing sports activities
    • Grinding the teeth during the nighttime

    Orofacial pain (jaw pain) caused by a temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder can be temporary or last several years and can affect only one side or both sides of your face. This pain usually affects women more than men, and mostly affects people aged 20 to 40 years old.

    Some common symptoms of this are:

    • Having difficulty opening your mouth wide open
    • The jaw getting stuck in an open or closed position
    • Feeling pain or a tender feeling on your face, jaw area, neck, and shoulders while chewing, talking, or opening your mouth
    • Hearing or feeling a grating, popping, or clicking sound when opening or closing your mouth, which can be painful
    • Having difficulty or feeling some discomfort when chewing or biting
    • Developing some swelling on one or both sides of your face, especially near the jaw joint areas
    1. Sinus problems

    Another possible cause of orofacial pain (jaw pain) is developing a sinus problem, such as a sinus infection. A sinus problem can cause some pressure on your sinus cavity, which can spread this pain into the jaw area of your face. A sinus inflammation can also trigger an existing case of temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder, which in turn causes some orofacial pain to be felt.

    1. Cluster Headaches

    Orofacial pain (jaw pain) may also be felt when a person has cluster headaches, an extremely painful type of headache which occur in clusters. The pain felt from cluster headaches are usually felt near and around the eyes and temples but can also sometimes spread to the jaw area. 

    1. Tooth pain and ache

    Another possible, although rare, cause of jaw pain is a severe toothache or infection, such as dental abscesses. This can cause extreme pain on your teeth and gums and can often radiate into the upper and lower jaws.

    How is orofacial pain (jaw pain) treated?

    The type of treatment used to deal with orofacial pain (jaw pain) will depend on what causes it. Thus, the first step in treating your specific type of orofacial pain is by diagnosing the exact cause of the orofacial pain. The usual diagnosis for jaw pain is TMD, but if no symptom or evidence of it is found then your doctor will test for a different cause of the pain. Once the exact cause is diagnosed, your doctor or health provider will give you a treatment regimen to deal with the pain. 

    For temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMD), treatment may include the following options:

    • Over-the-counter medicine. This usually consists of nosteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to deal with the pain and swelling.
    • Ice packs. You will be instructed to apply an ice pack to the side of your face for 10 minutes to relieve the pain, after which it is replaced with a warm towel for 5 minutes.
    • Soft food diet. To reduce pressure on the TMJ, you may be advised to stick to a soft food diet, which is composed of soup, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, and other soft foods. Avoid eating crunchy and hard food that may apply additional pressure to your jaw.
    • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This special type of therapy involves the use of low-level electrical currents to relieve orofacial pain felt near your temporomandibular joint. This uses a small device that can be purchased if you want to do the therapy at your home.
    • Surgery. If none of the previous treatment options work, you can opt to undergo surgery if your doctor suggests it.

    For sinus problems, treatment options include:

    • Sinus rinse. Use a saline solution to perform a sinus rinse or flush, to rid your sinus cavities of congestion and irritation.
    • Over-the-counter medicine. Nasal corticosteroids like fluticasone and budesonide should help reduce inflammation in your sinuses.

    Cluster headaches may be treated by:

    • Oxygen. To help relieve the pain from cluster headaches, you can breathe pure oxygen when you start to feel the headache.
    • Medication. Tripitan medication and dihydroergotamine (DHE) can help relieve pain felt from cluster headaches.

    Finally, for orofacial pain from a dental abscess, you have the following treatment options:

    • Have the pus drained. Visit a dentist to treat the dental abscess. He/she can drain the pus to reduce the pain.
    • Root canal treatment. If the cause of the abscess is from your tooth, then you may need to undergo a root canal.

    TES Clinic

    304 Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza Suites

    #05-42, Orchard Medical Specialists

    Singapore 238863

    +65 6737 0552

    +65 9735 9930