Does your jaw hurt when you chew or bite down, open your mouth wide or when you wake up in the morning? Pain and discomfort in the jaw can be a symptom of a problem with your teeth, an injury to the jaw or the joints that move the jaw.
If you have jaw pain that isn't going away, make an appointment with your doctor or dentist for a physical examination and to discuss possible treatments.
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD)
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) can be found on each side of the head next to the ears. These are the joints that allow your jaw to move when eating and speaking. If these joints are injured, subject to wear and tear or put under stress from teeth grinding, they can develop a TMJ disorder (TMD).
Possible signs of TMJ disorders are if your jaw aches when you use it, the joints make unusual sounds, or your jaw sometimes 'locks' and won't open or close.
TMD sometimes goes away in time, but your dentist may recommend treatment options to help you manage your jaw pain and ease strain on the joints. You may be advised to eat soft foods, try to avoid opening your mouth wide or practise jaw strengthening or relaxing exercises.
Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism)
TMJ problems and jaw pain can sometimes be caused by grinding or clenching teeth, a condition called bruxism. Some people do this when they feel angry or stressed, when they're concentrating or during their sleep. Many people are not even aware that they do it.
As well as pain in your jaw, other possible signs that you might grind your teeth include headaches or painful teeth when you wake up or teeth that are sensitive to temperature, chipped, cracked or feel loose.
If your bruxism is caused by feelings of stress, your dentist may recommend trying relaxation techniques or therapy. If you grind your teeth at night, they may provide a custom-fitted bite splint similar to a mouthguard that should be worn while you sleep to prevent your teeth from coming together.
If your jaw pain is accompanied by severe toothache, you have a swelling in your jaw, gums or face, a bad taste in your mouth or a fever, these could all be signs of a dental abscess. This is a serious infection around the tooth roots in the jaw that needs the attention of a dentist as soon as possible.
Treatment for a tooth abscess will depend on how severe it is. Your dentist may recommend draining the abscess, performing a root canal treatment, or may prescribe antibiotics. If a tooth has already been damaged beyond repair, it may need to be extracted to access the infection, but early treatment can usually save the tooth.
Other causes of jaw pain
Jaws can feel painful for other reasons, which is why it's important to get a professional diagnosis before beginning any treatment. Other possible causes include:
- Dislocated jaw – if the pain gets worse when you move your jaw, your jaw sticks out or you're not able to close your mouth properly, your jaw may be dislocated and needs to be reset in the correct position.
- Sinusitis – if your upper jaw aches and your feel pain or pressure inside your face or have headaches, a blocked nose or discharge, you may have sinusitis. Your doctor may prescribe decongestants and will recommend avoiding whatever triggers the condition.
- Trigeminal neuralgia – the most common type of nerve pain, trigeminal nerve pain may be felt in the face, cheeks or jaw. Your doctor will try to track down the cause so that this can be addressed and you may be prescribed medication for pain relief and muscle spasms.
Talk to a dentist in Brisbane
If you want a dentist to take a look at your jaw or your teeth, get in touch with our professional team at Face Value Dental in Brisbane CBD.
 Healthdirect. Temporomandibular joint disorder [Online] 2017 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/temporomandibular-joint-disorder
 Better Health Channel. Teeth grinding [Online] 2018 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/teeth-grinding
 Healthdirect. Tooth abscess [Online] 2017 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/tooth-abscess
 Healthdirect. Jaw dislocation [Online] 2018 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/jaw-dislocation
 Better Health Channel. Sinusitis [Online] 2011 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sinusitis
 Better Health Channel. Neuralgia [Online] 2015 [Accessed February 2019] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/neuralgia