Sore Jaw or Jaw Soreness: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Sore Jaw or Jaw Soreness is a common complaint experienced by many people. Sore jaw is discomfort or jaw pain in the area around the jaw joint, which also includes nearby bony structures and soft tissues. Jaw pain due to sore jaw can be experienced as a dull achy feeling or sometimes as sharp shooting pains. Jaw ache can develop suddenly or may gradually build up to cause discomfort.

Sore Jaw or Jaw Soreness

What Is A Sore Jaw Joint?

What makes jaw joint more vulnerable to soreness is its location and function. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ears, on both sides and it closely related to the upper and lower jaw in a way to facilitate opening and closing of the mouth. There are many muscles, ligaments, other tissues, blood vessels and nerves closely arranged around this junction.

Jaw pain can extend anywhere from the jaw joint or TMJ to the upper jaw, lower jaw (mandible) and those structures arranged around it. Jaw pain arising in the jaw joint can be felt in the nearby area, at the same time, conditions of the surrounding structures can affect the jaw and cause sore jaw or jaw soreness. Any injury or damage to tissues surrounding the TMJ, can lead to a sore jaw joint; problems affecting the jaw joint are called as temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD), TMJ disorders or TMJ pain.

What Are The Symptoms Of Sore Jaw Or Jaw Soreness?

The common symptoms of sore jaw or jaw soreness are pain on movement of the jaw including chewing, yawning, screaming, singing and sometimes even talking or swallowing. Wide opening of the jaw, in particular is very painful and the jaw may feel tender to touch.

Some may experience locking of the jaw joint, which makes it difficult to close and open jaw or open a closed jaw. Clicking, grating or popping sounds may be heard at the jaw movement. In sore jaw on one side or one-sided jaw soreness, the affected side may appear swollen and the face may appear tired.

Jaw pain can get referred to close structures near the jaw joint and cause ear pain, dizziness, ringing in ears or increased sensitivity to noise. Headaches especially on the affected side are common. Sore Jaw or Jaw Soreness may be worsened by moving the jaw, chewing, wide mouth opening and sometimes due to exposure to cold.

What Can Cause Sore Jaw Or Jaw Soreness?

Sore Jaw or Jaw Soreness resulting in jaw pain can be caused due to many reasons.

What Can Cause Sore Jaw Or Jaw Soreness?

Sore Jaw Caused Due To TMD – Disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) contribute to jaw pain in most of the cases. Some of the cases in which the TMJ can get affected leading to sore jaw or jaw soreness may be involvement of the jaw joint, face, neck and jaw muscles, ligaments and tendons, nerves and blood vessels or dental structures.

The causes of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain leading to sore jaw or jaw soreness include

  • Use of orthodontic braces, malocclusion of teeth or bad bite.
  • Overuse of jaw muscles due to increased activity from movements like clenching jaws or grinding of teeth (bruxism). This can occur due to stress or due to dental problems.
  • Overstrained neck and face muscles and poor posture.
  • Overuse of the jaw joint causing excessive wear and tear, as in osteoarthritis and mostly affects older people. Arthritis of varying types including gout and rheumatoid arthritis that can affect the TMJ.
  • Injury to the jaw joint or joint cartilage, dislocation, etc. from direct blow, sports, whiplash injury, etc can cause jaw soreness.
  • Oversensitivity to pain; myofascial pain syndrome characterized by restricted jaw movements, facial pain and clicking at jaw joint.

Sore Jaw or Jaw Soreness Caused Due To Dental problems – Dental issues can cause sore jaw or jaw pain for example:

Others – Other causes of sore jaw or jaw soreness leading to pain in the jaw can include conditions of the nearby structures:

  • Sinusitis, which causes pain in cheek bones and can extend to causing pain in the jaw.
  • Ear pain and ear infections.
  • Conditions affecting the salivary glands or parotid gland.
  • Viral infections like mumps, influenza.
  • Nerve related problems
  • Headache, neck pain or pain arising in surrounding muscles and structures.
  • Sometimes, sudden jaw pain may also arise from the heart or circulatory disturbances.

How Is Sore Jaw Or Jaw Soreness Diagnosed?

A proper patient history, clinical examination and evaluation can help in understanding the possible causes. Exact diagnosis can be obtained by performing necessary investigations based on the history. X-ray or MRI of the jaw joint may be advised. Dental X-rays may be taken if required. Advanced procedures like arthroscopy, diagnostic nerve block, etc may be performed as appropriate.

Treatment For Sore Jaw or Jaw Soreness

Sore Jaw or Jaw Soreness can be treated with the necessary medications depending on the underlying cause. Pain relieving and anti-inflammatory medications help dealing with sore jaw. Muscles relaxants and steroid treatment may be considered. Sore jaw due to infections can be treated with antibiotics. Dental problems causing soreness in the jaw needs to be resolved as appropriate. A specialist opinion and surgical intervention should be considered if required.

How To Manage Sore Jaw?

Sore jaw can be managed by taking simple measures like:

  • Applying cold or hot packs for swelling and pain in the jaw as the case may be.
  • Applying pain relieving gel around the jaw area.
  • Cleaning the mouth with antiseptic mouth-wash.
  • Meditation and behavior modification for relaxation and stress management.

Avoid jaw movements like chewing gum, wide mouth opening, yawning, yelling or singing that aggravate the symptoms of sore jaw. Take nutritious soft diet that can help jaw muscles relax and allow time to heal.

Muscles around the jaw need stretching and strengthening. Exercises to stretch jaw; opening and closing the jaw, holding open mouth posture, etc. or massaging the jaw muscles should be practiced under supervision. Consider proper dental hygiene, orthodontics, dentures and dental procedures to keep teeth properly aligned and maintain proper chewing function.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 25, 2022

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