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Jaw Pain

Jaw Pain: 5 Most Common Causes and Treatment

Jaw pain can be the result of multiple ailments, and finding out which one is affecting you can be confusing. Here’s a breakdown of the top 5 jaw pain causes and treatments plus a few helpful tips on how to minimise pain and speed up recovery. We use our jaw for talking, eating, and breathing, so making sure it’s in tip-top condition is important.  


1. Broken or Dislocated Jaw

Trauma to the jaw can happen with sport, falls, motor vehicle or work accidents and assaults. If you have experienced trauma to your jaw and are experiencing swelling and pain, it is possible you have a sprain or dislocation. A broken jaw is also possible with trauma and is a more serious injury. This should be treated as an emergency. The most important task during trauma to the jaw is to ensure the lower jaw is stable and the airway is clear. Symptoms of a broken jaw are much more serious than a dislocation. The jaw pain will be noticeably increased and bleeding is common. Numbness and bruising on the face are common features, as is an overbite, and teeth becoming misaligned. 

Treating a Broken or Dislocated Jaw

A broken or dislocated jaw will usually require a trip to the hospital. Manipulating the jaw into place will require a medical professional. Treatment is designed to minimise jaw movement during the recovery process. Usually jaw physiotherapy will aid recovery but for more severe cases, surgery may be required. Complex fractures will need more time and more attention to achieve proper healing. 


2. Toothache 

One of the most frequent types of jaw pain is from tooth problems such as cavities, cracks, and sensitivities due to temperature or texture. Causes like teeth grinding, gum disease, or wisdom teeth are also big contributors. Toothache and jaw pain occurs when a nerve at the root of the tooth is irritated. Bacteria growing inside the mouth contributes to dental decay and gum disease. Symptoms can include pain and sensitivity through to extreme temperatures and swelling. 


Treating Toothache

A salt water mouth rinse to disinfect, followed by a cold compress to relieve inflammation and pain is an immediate home treatment option. Your dentist will be able to determine the cause of the pain and prescribe the correct medication if necessary. Treating a toothache early on is important to stop the spread of bacteria and inflammation within the mouth and jaw. Always consult your dentist for an opinion if you are concerned about pain coming from your teeth. 


3. Temporomandibular Joint Pain (TMJ)

This hard-to-pronounce joint is a double hinge connecting each side of the jaw to the skull. TMJ disorders require an experienced practitioner to diagnose and treat as they are often a mixture of multiple different causes. The joint itself absorbs shock and allows sliding motions with the help of a cartilage disc. Joint changes over time combined with jaw-grinding can irritate and malform the disc causing pain and dysfunction.


Treating TMJ Disorders 

The good news is, TMJ disorders will usually improve with treatment. The causes and the required treatments of jaw pain are a specialty area and require a clinician with experience. If symptoms persist, medical treatment combined with either oral splints, physiotherapy or both, will be the best course of action. In certain cases, muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs may be necessary to manage TMJ pain. 


4. Joint Problems: psoriatic arthritis

Jaw pain causes can be the result of joint diseases such as psoriatic arthritis (PsA). PsA is an autoimmune disease that attacks healthy joints and causes inflammation, swelling, and jaw pain. Symptoms can be severe enough to disrupt sleep, chewing, speaking, and eating. Studies also show that PsA can result in gum decay and tooth damage. 


How to Treat Psoriatic Arthritis

Home treatments should always be in conjunction with advice provided by a medical professional. While symptoms can be eased at home, ongoing dysfunction can occur if good management isn’t followed. Resting the jaw and staying away from tough or hard foods will ease inflammation as will applying ice to the joints or heat to the local muscles.


5. Referred pain 

Jaw pain can sometimes be caused by the pain radiating from the muscles on the side of the head. This can result in headaches as well as the jaw pain/ache. Inflammation in the jaw may or may not be present in these cases. Manual therapy, dry needling therapy and exercises to improve blood flow and achieve a relaxation effect to these muscles can improve this type of pain. 

Treating Jaw Pain

Optimising diet and managing stress well is one of the keys to managing muscular pain around the temporomandibular joint. Minimising stress is critical to reducing muscular tension as well as improving sleep, which helps with overall body recovery. 

Director & Senior Physiotherapist at Integrity Physiotherapy, Leslie Trigg, has over 13 years of experience in clinical practice. He has graduated with a degree in Human Biology (Anatomy and Physiology) from Curtin University in 2001 and later completed a Masters of Physiotherapy in 2007. He has tremendous experience in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, neurosurgical and sports physiotherapy. In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, listening to music and spending time with his family.