The human jaw is made up 2 major bones called the maxilla (upper jaw bone) and mandible (lower jaw bone). The lower jaw or the mandible (also known as the lower maxilla) is one of the strongest and the largest bone in the facial structure. Both the jaws hold the teeth in the alveolar ridge. The jaws help in articulations and movement of the mouth while talking, eating and breathing. The jaw bones are innervated by nerves, blood vessels, muscles and tendons. Any abnormalities in any of these structures including the teeth can lead to severe pain in the jaw. Jaw pain can also be caused as a referred pain originating in the neighbouring structures in the mouth and neck, radiating to the jaw. Jaw pain can be categorized as 2 types:
- Acute Jaw Pain: Usually of sudden onset and present for a shorter period of time.
- Chronic Jaw Pain: This kind of pain usually lingers for a prolonged period of time.
The symptoms of jaw pain may start as a dull, throbbing pain initially, which may gradually develop into a severe pain. In acute cases, jaw pain may present itself as a sharp, shooting and sudden pain. The exact symptom depends on the underlying cause of the jaw pain. Jaw pain can be caused by multiple reasons, which includes Bruxism, Osteomyelitis, Temporomandibular joint disorders can lead to joint pain, Tooth Abscess and infection, dental issues like problems in the teeth or gums, cavities, pulpitis, abscess or cyst etc. Other condition that may cause jaw pain includes sinus infections, fracture or injury of the jaw bones, arthritis of the jaw, ill-fitting dentures, cardiovascular issues, ear infection etc.
Ways to Relieve Jaw Pain
Treatment and management to relieve jaw pain depends of the underlying cause of the jaw pain. It is treated by an experienced dentist or an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Diagnosis generally includes obtaining a case history of the patient followed by clinical examination. The oral cavity is examined for detecting any dental issues and the temporomandibular joint is physically examined. Once the underlying cause is determined, an appropriate treatment plan is decided.
- In case if the jaw pain is caused due to teeth grinding, a bite plate or a mouth guard is fabricated and advised to wear particularly at night. This helps in habit breaking and also helps in protecting the teeth against any damage as well as relieving jaw pain caused due to teeth grinding.
- Medications such as anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants may be taken for providing symptomatic relief from jaw pain.
- Home remedies such as warm compresses and cold compresses over the affected area may help in relieving jaw pain and swelling.
- Gargling with warm salted water can also provide relief from jaw pain if there is infection of the gums, throat or teeth.
- In cases of jaw pain caused due to infection in the tooth, bone or soft tissues, antibiotics are prescribed based on the causative pathogen. Certain topical ointments may also be used based on the condition.
- Dental treatment includes root canal treatment, periodontal treatment, extraction, etc. needs to be done depending on the cause of jaw pain to get relief. Salt water gargle post extraction helps in preventing infection.
- In chronic conditions, jaw exercises are recommended for reversal of symptoms of pain in the jaw. Intervention by a physical therapist may be required.
- In advanced cases of jaw pain caused due to osteomyelitis, necrosis and malignancy, radiotherapy and surgical intervention may be required, followed by re-construction of the structure with grafts.
Prevention of Jaw Pain
Precautionary measures include prevention and management of the existing disorders. Jaw pain can be prevented by following simple preventative measures such as:
- Regular visit to the dentist. This will help in early detection and diagnosis of dental disorders so that it can be treated appropriately on a timely manner thereby preventing jaw pain.
- Regular use of mouth guard in known cases of bruxism and also during contact sports to prevent injury and trauma to the teeth can help prevent jaw pain.
- It is also advised to wear helmet during high impact physical activities to prevent jaw pain, fracture and injury.
- Regular jaw exercises for improvement flexibility and stiffness is recommended.
- Maintaining appropriate oral hygiene, following correct brushing technique and regular flossing can go a long way in preventing some of the common dental causes of jaw pain.
- Stress management is recommended in cases of teeth grinding leading to jaw pain.
- Following a calcium rich diet helps in maintaining healthy bone and prevents bone diseases.
- Quit smoking. Smoking and use of tobacco products increases the risk of oral cancer which can lead to severe damage in the jaw. It can lead to loss on bone in the jaw and causes necrosis on the surrounding structures.
Jaw pain can be caused by a number of reasons including dental issues, TMJ abnormalities, bone issues, teeth grinding, sinus infection, ear pain etc. Management of the jaw pain is planned based on the cause of the pain. In most of the cases, medications such as NSAIDs/anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants are given to control jaw pain and swelling. Antibiotics are also prescribed based on the condition. In case of dental issues, it is advised to get the problem resolved at the earliest by an experienced dental surgeon to prevent worsening of the symptoms. Jaw pain is a very common issue, and it is a reversible condition in most of the cases. In extreme cases, surgical intervention may be required for complete resolution the condition. Preventative measures includes regular visit to the dentist for early diagnosis and treatment. It is also advised to follow good oral hygiene habits.