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What Jaw Pain Means: What Causes It and How to Treat It

What Jaw Pain Means: What Causes It and How to Treat It

Jaw pain can indicate a dental issue such as a toothache, TMJ Disorder, or perhaps a more serious condition. In this post, the dentists at our five Toronto locations (Bay Adelaide Dental, College Park Dental, King-York Dental, Brookfield Place Dental and Richmond-Adelaide Dental) explain possible causes of jaw pain and what to do for sore jaws.

What causes jaw pain?

The cause of jaw pain can be a dental issue such as a toothache, TMJ Disorder, or perhaps more serious conditions.

TMJ Disorders

One of the most common causes of jaw pain is TMJ Disorder. The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull (located just below your temple, in front of your ear). This hinge plays a large role in your everyday life, allowing you to talk, breathe and eat.

TMJ Disorders occur when there is an issue with your jaw and facial muscles. If the disorder advances to a severe state after you start to experience pain in this area, you may eventually be unable to move your jaw.

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

  • Inflammation in the muscles surrounding your jaw
  • Certain conditions or illnesses such as arthritis
  • Injury to the jaw
  • Misalignment of the jaw

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

  • Pain or ache around your jaw, face or ears
  • Locking or popping in your jaw
  • Vision problems
  • Constant headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in ears

If you suspect there is a problem with your TMJ, see your dentist for recommended treatment or exercises. Sometimes, prescription drugs or surgery are required to address the issue.


Though many routine vaccines we take as children have fortunately gotten rid of diseases, it’s still possible to get diseases that can cause jaw pain and other symptoms.

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause your jaw muscles to stiffen or feel tight. This serious condition can result in weeks spent in hospital.


Just like other bones in your body, your jaw can become fractured or dislocated. After taking a blow to the jaw, you may experience:

  • Pain
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Swelling
  • Bruises

You might have to see your dentist if the jaw pain doesn’t go away, you are missing teeth or you’re unable to chew or move your mouth depending on the injury. Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen can be helpful, in addition to dental treatment if necessary.

Dental Issues

A variety of dental issues can lead to jaw pain. These can include:

  • Fractured or crowded teeth
  • Toothache (typically with an abscess or cavity as the cause)
  • Wisdom teeth erupting
  • Gum disease (which can damage your jaw bone)
  • Teeth grinding
  • Misaligned teeth

Fractured teeth are dental emergencies, and the rest of these problems should not be overlooked, so you should visit your dentist right away. Until then, rinse the tooth that hurts with warm water and try to keep it as clean as possible.

Cysts or Tumors

Odontogenic cysts or tumors are not usually cancerous, but can quickly begin to impact your teeth. You may require surgery to remove them.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are one of the most painful varieties of headaches. They can result in both pain around or behind one eye and pain radiating to reach the jaw.


This type of infection which occurs in the bone can effect your mandible (lower jaw). Called anaerobic osteomyelitis, it can reduce blood supply to your jaw and damage bone tissue if left untreated.

How can I eliminate jaw pain?

At-Home Care

  • Apply a warm, wet washcloth or a cloth-covered ice pack to your jaw for 10 minute intervals, waiting 10 minutes between applications.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Massage the affected joint. Rub it using your fingers, pressing the sore areas of your jaw and moving down to the side of your neck.
  • Avoid caffeine, as it can promote muscle tension.

Dental Care

Make an appointment with your dentist if your jaw pain persists after at-home remedies.

Our Toronto dentists will discuss your symptoms with you, complete a comprehensive oral examination, explain possible treatment options, and develop a custom treatment plan that may include a mouthguard or other measures depending on your needs. 

In a few cases, oral surgery for TMJ Disorder may be recommended to correct the problem for those that suffer from structural problems in their jaw and haven’t found relief to their jaw pain with other treatments.

If you are experiencing jaw pain contact the Toronto dentists at the Toothworks location nearest to you to book an appointment today.

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Since 2001, Toothworks Dental Clinics have been providing patients of all ages with personalized dental care and a welcoming experience at locations across Ontario.

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