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What Causes a Jaw Ache?

By Lori Smith
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are several potential causes for a jaw ache. Most commonly, discomfort occurs as a result of bruxism — also called nighttime teeth grinding — or gum chewing, a sinus infection, and various types of dental problems. Some people experience pain after eating foods that require excessive chewing, such as steak, causing the joints to become fatigued. Occasionally, a jaw ache is a symptom of something more serious, such as a heart attack.

An individual who grinds his teeth at night often experiences headaches or facial discomfort upon awakening. This usually occurs as a results of continuous tension and pressure on the jaw muscles from clinching teeth together during sleep. It generally creates painful inflammation in the joints. An early morning jaw ache is often caused by this condition, also known as bruxism. A custom-fitted mouthpiece worn at night usually helps.

Some people grind or clench their teeth more often during periods of extreme stress, even during waking hours. Many times, they do not even realize they are doing it. Adopting stress management techniques, like deep breathing exercises, yoga, or a therapeutic massage can help relieve tension.

Sometimes, a jaw ache can occur after periods of excessive chewing. People who chew a lot of gum, for example, or shortly after consuming meat, can suffer from subsequent discomfort. Temporarily adjusting to predominately softer foods and avoiding chewy ones can give sore facial muscles an opportunity to heal. If the pain persists, the cause may be attributed to an underlying dental problem or a symptom of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.

A dental visit can usually help identify the source of a jaw ache. An oral exam and a simple diagnostic test, such as an X-ray, may help determine the best course of treatment. If an infection is present, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed. Alternatively, the dentist may discover that temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is present. Over time, the person suffering from the condition may experience recurring headaches and jaw pain. A clicking or popping noise is usually evident each time the mouth is opened or closed. Depending on the extent of the disorder, various methods may be used to correct this, which may be as simple as performing daily facial exercises.

Jaw pain is sometimes associated with a medical condition as opposed to a dental one. A sinus infection, for example, may cause facial discomfort. Once the infection is cured, the pain usually subsides. A medical doctor can usually diagnose and treat an individual suffering from this type of an infection, which usually eliminates the source of a jaw ache.

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