Jaw pain: key facts, causes and treatments


Jaw pain, sometimes known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders affect anywhere from 15-25% of adults1,2. This pain can make regular, everyday activities like talking, eating and laughing an uncomfortable — and even painful —experience.


So what is jaw pain, why does it occur and what can you do about it?


What is jaw pain?


First, let’s talk about how your jaw works. Your TMJ is like a hinge that connects your lower jaw to the rest of your skull and allows for your jawbone to move when you chew or talk. You also have a joint on each side of your jaw3.


When you experience jaw pain, it often arises from those two joints and the muscles around them. Other symptoms of a TMJ disorder include, earache, headache, and facial pain1.

Jaw pain might be sharp or dull, it may feel like a clicking or clunking of the jaw while opening or closing, or it might make it difficult for you to open and close your jaw at all. Generally, you’ll experience jaw pain the most noticeably while moving (or trying to move) your jaw.


What causes jaw pain?


Some common causes of jaw pain include:

  • Injury to discs in the jaw. There are small discs in your jaw joints which help with smooth movement. If these discs are eroded or move out of place, that can cause you pain4.

  • Joint or muscle sprain. The overuse or overstretching of the joints or muscles in your jaw can lead to discomfort until the muscle or joint recovers.

  • Grinding or clenching. Long-term grinding or clenching of your teeth and jaw can place strain on the muscles and cause pain.

  • Orthodontic work. Braces, retainers and other dental interventions may cause some discomfort in your jaw. Emerging wisdom teeth may also lead to pain.

  • Illness or disease. In some cases, jaw pain can be related to conditions like arthritis or some connective tissue diseases.

How can I fix jaw pain?


To help reduce jaw pain, you can:

  • Improve mobility. When joints in the jaw have become stiff, treatments to improve mobility may help. Research has found physical therapy is beneficial in improving opening and closing action, pain rating, and long-term disability from jaw pain6.

  • Reduce muscle tension. Manual treatments aimed at relaxing and mobilising the muscles in and around your jaw have been shown to be successful in dealing with TMJ pain2,7.

  • Reduce stress. If your jaw pain is due to clenching or grinding, think about seeking out stress-relieving treatment such as massage therapy and reducing sources of stress in your life to help address the underlying reason for these activities.

  • Visit the dentist. Be sure to check with your dentist or orthodontist to ensure any plates or retainers are fitted correctly, and to make adjustments if necessary. Your dentist can also advise on mouthguards or other measures to help reduce jaw pain.

  • Consider Botox to relax muscles. A small study in 2012 found that Botox can reduce jaw pain by relaxing the muscles for up to 3 months after treatment8. Keep in mind Botox can also have side effects, and you may like to explore other options first.

Jaw pain can be a complex issue that requires an equally nuanced approach to treatment. It often means multiple treatment types, which might include dental orthoses and manual therapy. Research indicates that musculoskeletal manual techniques – the kind your chiropractor can administer – are generally very effective in treating TMJ disorders5.


Ready to address your jaw pain and get back on track? Get in touch with our friendly team and book an appointment to explore how we can help you address muscle and joint tension today.



Sources

1 R L Gauer, M J Semidey, Diagnosis and Treatment of Temporomandibular Disorders, American Family Physician, 2015

2 E Yuill, SD Howitt., Temporomandibular joint: conservative care of TMJ dysfunction in a competitive swimmer, The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 2009

3 AL Young., Internal derangements of the temporomandibular joint: A review of the anatomy, diagnosis, and management, Journal of Indian Prosthodontic Society, 2015

4 TMJ Disorders, MayoClinic, 2018

5 G Fisch, A Finke, J Ragonese, L Dugas, M Wrzosek., Outcomes of physical therapy in patients with temporomandibular disorder: a retrospective review, British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 2021

6 S Pavia, R Fischer, R Roy., Chiropractic Treatment of Temporomandibular Dysfunction: A Retrospective Case Series, Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 2015

7 C Denglehem, JM Maes, G Raoul, J Ferri., Botulinum toxin A: analgesic treatment for temporomandibular joint disorders, Rev Stomatol Chir Maxillofac, 2012

8 WR Martins, JC Blasczyk, MAF de Oliveira, KFL Gonçalves, AC Bonini-Rocha, PM Dugailly, RJ de Oliveira., Efficacy of musculoskeletal manual approach in the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorder: A systematic review with meta-analysis, Manual Therapy, 2016