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

Jaw pain can indicate a number of dental issues including toothaches, TMJ disorder or even a much more serious condition. Here, our North York dentists explain the possible causes of jaw pain and what you can do about your sore joints.

What causes jaw pain?

Jaw pain may indicate a dental issue such as a toothache, TMJ disorder, or even a much more serious condition. 

TMJ Disorders

One of the most common causes of jaw pain is TMJ Disorder. The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull (located just below your temple, in front of your ear). This hinge plays a large role in your everyday life, allowing you to talk, breathe and eat.

TMJ disorders occur when there is an issue affecting the muscles of your face or jaw. If this disorder advances to a more serious state after you begin experiencing pain in this area, you may eventually even be unable to move your jaw. 

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

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

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

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

If you suspect a problem with your TMJ, see your dentist so he or she can recommend treatment or exercises. Sometimes, prescription drugs or surgery may be required to address the issue.


While we take many routine vaccines in childhood that have eliminated the risk of many kinds of disease, it's still possible to get diseases that may jaw jaw pain among other symptoms. 

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause your jaw muscles to stiffen or feel tight. This serious condition can result in spending weeks in hospital.


Just like other bones in your body, your jaw can become fractured or dislocated. After taking a blow to the jaw, you may experience:

  • Pain
  • Bruises
  • Swelling
  • Loose or missing teeth

Depending on your injury, you may need to see your dentist if the pain doesn't dissipate, if you are missing teeth, or if you are unable to open and close your mouth. Over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen may be able to help on top of dental treatments if necessary. 

Dental Issues

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

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

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.

Cysts or Tumors

While not typically cancerous, odontogenic cysts or tumors can quickly start to impact your teeth. Surgery may be required in order to renew them. 

Cluster Headaches

One of the most painful types of headache, cluster headaches can result in pain around or behind one eye, with pain radiating to reach 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 get rid of 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 persists after at-home remedies, make an appointment with your dentist.

At Sheppard Yorkland Dental, our dentists will discuss your symptoms with you, complete a comprehensive oral examination, explain possible treatment options, and develop a custom treatment plan that may include a mouthguard or other measures depending on your needs. 

In rare cases, oral surgery for TMJ Disorder may be recommended to correct the problem for those with severe pain that suffer from structural problems in their jaw and haven’t found relief with other remedies or treatments.

If you are experiencing jaw pain contact our North York dentists to book an appointment today.

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