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What causes a sore jaw?

Jaw pain can affect our ability to eat and speak, becoming a daily irritation.

The first step in treating a sore jaw is diagnosing the source of the discomfort. Here are some common causes of chronic jaw pain.

Damage to your jaw joint

Facial trauma is a common cause of prolonged jaw pain. Whether you’ve been hit in the face while playing sports, were in a car accident or tripped, the residual effects of the injury can last longer than you realize.

Your jaw joint or facial muscles may also be damaged by:

  • Grinding your teeth at night.
  • Tightly clenching your jaw when feeling anxious or stressed.

Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJ)

The temporomandibular joints are the hinges located on either side of the jaw. Disorders affecting these joints are the number one cause of jaw pain in the United States, affecting more than 10 million Americans. Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders can stem from one or more of the following:

  • Issues with the muscles that control jaw movement
  • Overuse or excessive stimulation of the jaw joint
  • A damaged disc
  • Arthritis

Sinus infection

The sinuses are located very close to the jaw joint. Severe inflammation or infection can put pressure on the joint and cause pain.

Abscessed tooth and other dental conditions

An untreated infection of the dental pulp, or nerve, can lead to an abscessed tooth. Once abscessed, the bacteria can spread from the dental cavity into the bone and surrounding tissue.

Gum disease or cavities can also lead to a sore jaw. Patients with misaligned teeth, missing teeth or wide gaps between their teeth may experience discomfort from the pressure created when biting and chewing.

Trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is caused by compression on the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve provides sensation to the upper and lower jaws as well as much of the face.

TN usually stems from a swollen blood vessel and is more common in those who suffer from multiple sclerosis. Trigeminal neuralgia pain can be triggered by common facial stimuli such as brushing your teeth, shaving, applying makeup and even speaking, eating or drinking.

Treatment options for a sore jaw

Treatment options vary wildly depending on the cause of your jaw pain. Consult with your dentist or oral surgeon to begin the diagnostic process.