There are a number of things that can cause pain in your jaw, including fractures, misalignment, arthritis, dental abscess and Temporomandibular joint disorder. It is important that you have any jaw problems diagnosed by a professional as soon as they occur. Pain in the jaw area could be symptomatic of a serious condition like a heart attack or angina. Knowing what causes jaw pain can help aid in its treatment in order to avoid swelling, problems with chewing, and limited movement.
Method 1 of 4: Treating Jaw Pain Caused By Grinding Teeth
Understand what causes teeth grinding: Though teeth grinding (also known as bruxism) does not necessarily have one single cause, doctors have identified several factors that can lead to teeth grinding during the day or at night, including:
- Ear pain
- Incoming teeth in children
- Unpleasant emotions (stress, frustration, anger, anxiety)
- Certain personality types (hyper-competitive, hyper-aggressive)
- A compulsive habit, often used to focus or cope with stressful situations
- Misaligned upper and lower teeth (called a malocclusion)
- Sleep-related complications, including sleep apnea
- Complications caused by certain degenerative disorders, including Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
Treat your teeth: If chronic teeth grinding is causing you severe jaw pain, you may want to consult your dentist on strategies you can take to prevent grinding, or at least reduce the side effects caused by bruxism.
- Use a mouth guard. This is especially useful if you experience bruxism at night. Wearing a mouth guard designed to prevent bruxism can help keep your upper and lower teeth separated and reduce the pain and damage caused by grinding.
- Correct your tooth alignment. In extreme cases of bruxism, your doctor may recommend wearing braces to realign your upper and lower rows of teeth, or having oral surgery to reshape the contours of your teeth.
- Have regular dental exams. Allowing your dentist to monitor and treat your teeth-grinding habits can help reduce the frequency of bruxism and reduce jaw pain.
Treat the underlying cause of bruxism: If extreme emotions or behavioral complications are causing the bruxism that has lead to severe jaw pain, you may want to consider ways of treating the emotional or behavioral causes.
- Try stress-management exercises like meditation or rigorous exercise.
- Try therapy to address issues like anxiety, anger, or stress
- In extreme cases, medication may be recommended. Medication is not the preferred treatment for bruxism, but certain prescriptions, such as muscle relaxers, may help ease the tension and treat the pain.
Make lifestyle changes: If the bruxism causing your jaw pain is related to stress or anxiety, making lifestyle changes could help reduce the incidence of teeth grinding and help prevent pain in the future.
- Try to manage stress: Find what calms you down, whether it’s listening to relaxing music, having a vigorous workout, or a calming soak in the tub. Practice your stress-relieving activity every day, especially before bed.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants: Try drinking decaffeinated coffee or tea, or for best results, drink a relaxing herbal tea in the evening. Avoid tobacco and alcohol in the evening to promote a more restful night’s sleep with lower incidences of bruxism.
Method 2 of 4: Treating Jaw Pain Caused By a Tooth Abscess
Understand what causes a tooth abscess: An abscess is a bacterial infection at the nerve site, which is usually caused by a cavity that has gone without treatment for a prolonged period of time. Symptoms include:
- Prolonged throbbing pain in the tooth
- Sensitivity to temperature fluctuations, such as hot or cold food or beverages
- Pain during chewing, eating, or drinking
- Swelling of the face on the side of the abscess
- Swollen or inflamed lymph nodes around the jaw
Treating the abscess: If you believe you have a tooth abscess, it is imperative that you see a dentist immediately. Depending on how severe your abscess is, your dentist may recommend a number of options to treat the abscess and prevent the infection from spreading. All of these procedures should only be performed by a licensed, experienced dentist.
- Draining the abscess may be possible: Your dentist may be able to drain the pus out at the site of the infection, using sterilized tools in a controlled medical setting. Again, do not attempt to perform any of these procedures at home.
- Having a root canal might be the best option: A root canal involves surgically removing the diseased tissue in your gums and draining the abscess. This allows your dentist to treat the infection while still managing to save your tooth.
- Your dentist may recommend extracting the infected tooth: This is usually done if the infection has rendered the tooth unsalvageable. After extracting the tooth, your dentist will then drain the abscess to treat the infection.
- Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent the infection from spreading to other teeth or to your jaw. These may be prescribed in conjunction with other treatment options.
- It’s important to practice good dental hygiene to prevent future abscesses. This includes flossing every day, brushing your teeth twice daily, limiting sugary snacks, and going in for regular dental checkups.
Manage the pain: After seeing your dentist to treat the infection, there are a number of things you can do at home to help manage the pain associated with an abscessed tooth.
- Mix one teaspoon of salt into an eight-ounce glass of warm water: Use this rinse after every meal and before bed to help reduce inflammation and prevent infection.
- Use pain relievers: Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be taken to reduce inflammation and manage pain. Take only the recommended dosage listed on the label, as taking too much of a pain reliever may cause liver damage and other health problems.
- Use a cold compress: Apply a cold compress to the affected side of your face for 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off, to manage the pain and inflammation in the jaw and mouth. Do not use a hot compress with an abscessed tooth, as heat may allow the infection to spread.
Method 3 of 4: Treating Jaw Pain Caused By TMJ Arthritis
Understand what causes TMJ problems: Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems may be caused by traumatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is most common in adults over 50 years ofage. All forms of TMJ arthritis cause stiffness, pain, grating, swelling, and limited range of motion.
Diagnose TMJ arthritis. Before you treat for TMJ arthritis, it’s important to have confirmation that the problem is, in fact, arthritis. In most cases, an X-ray or cat scan can confirm TMJ arthritis based on the observed flattening and lipping of the condyle, the rounded prominence at the end of a bone. The exception to this is traumatic arthritis, which does not typically show up on an X-ray unless a pooling of fluids or a hemorrhage causes a widening of the joint, which would then be visible in an X-ray.
Treat traumatic TMJ arthritis. Though arthritis cannot be cured, there are a number of treatments that can be administered to reduce jaw pain associated with arthritis.
- Many doctors recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat the symptoms of traumatic TMJ arthritis.
- Try sticking to a soft food diet, to avoid unnecessary jaw movement.
- Use a warm compress. Apply the compress for 20 minutes, then remove the compress and exercising the jaw by moving it open and shut, then side to side. Try repeating this treatment three to five times daily, as needed.
- Try wearing a bite guard. This may give some patients relief from pain or discomfort.
Treat osteoarthritic TMJ pain: Though this type of arthritis can be painful, especially if the jaws have begun to move closer together, there are steps that can be taken to manage the pain and treat the symptoms.
- Wear a mouth guard or bite plate. These can be worn during the day or overnight to help reduce pain and grating in patients with osteoarthritic TMJ pain.
- Try applying a warm compress for 20 minutes, then exercising the jaw. Move the jaw open and closed, then move the lower jaw from side to side.
- Stick to soft foods. Avoid anything hard or crunchy.
- Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to reduce pain and inflammation during particularly painful periods.
Treat rheumatoid arthritis TMJ pain: The treatment for rheumatoid TMJ pain is similar to rheumatoid pain in other joints. Typical treatments may include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Jaw exercises to maintain range of motion when pain is at a minimum
- A cold compress may be applied to reduce pain and inflammation. Apply the cold compress to the affected side of the jaw for 20 minutes on, followed by 20 minutes off.
- In severe cases, some doctors may recommend surgery to prevent the rheumatoid arthritis from limiting jaw function. Surgery is usually considered a last option when all other alternatives have been exhausted, due to the risk of complications associated with surgery.
Use medication for all forms of TMJ arthritis: Pain relievers may be used to reduce pain and inflammation in all forms of TMJ arthritis. Consult with your doctor on a medication plan that works best for your symptoms.
- Pain relievers, both over-the-counter and prescription-strength, can help manage the pain associated with TMJ arthritis.
- Muscle relaxants may be prescribed by your doctor for short periods of time (a few days to several weeks in length) to help manage pain and make movement easier.
- Sedatives may be recommended by your doctor to help you sleep at night, if TMJ pain is keping you awake.
- Your doctor may recommend supervised cortisone injections to treat pain and inflammation.
Method 4 of 4: Treating Jaw Pain With No Discernable Cause
Change your diet: Avoid hard foods, as well as foods that require you to stretch your mouth open wide. These can include nuts, hard candy, hard baked goods, and larger fruits or vegetables like whole apples or uncut, raw carrots. You should also avoid chewing gum and other stretchy candy, such as taffy.
Change the way you sleep: If you sleep on your side and you’re experiencing jaw pain, you may want to try sleeping on your back at night to remove pressure from your jaw. You may also want to invest in a mouth guard to keep from grinding your teeth at night, as this may contribute to jaw pain without your realizing that it is happening.
Use medication to treat pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help treat inflammation and other symptoms of jaw pain.
Try a topical agent: Gels or mouth swabs containing Benzocaine or similar active ingredients can be found at most drug stores and provide topical pain relief to teeth and jaws.
Exercise your jaw muscles: Move your jaw open and closed, then work the jaw from side to side. Gradually increase the frequency of these exercises.
Use a hot or cold compress. First try using a hot compress, but if heat does not alleviate pain or inflammation, try a cold compress.
- Run a towel or wash cloth under warm-to-hot tap water. Wring out excess water.
- Once the towel is at a comfortable temperature that will not burn the skin, apply it to the affected jaw. Hold the hot compress on for about five to ten minutes, and repeat several times each day.
- If a hot compress does not work, use a cold compress or an ice pack. Ice packs should be used for about 20 minutes on, then 20 minutes off.
- You may also want to try alternating hot and cold compresses to maximize the benefits of each. Use a hot compress for five minutes, then a cold compress for five minutes.
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