Why Does My Jaw Hurt? 7 Possible Causes

Posted on: June 17, 2019 | Patient Education

Please note: if your pain is severe or unbearable, see your dentist immediately. If you are near Las Vegas, Henderson or Laughlin, Nevada, or Lake Havasu, Arizona, call us immediately at (702) 388-8888 or schedule an appointment with Boston Dental Group.

Why does my jaw hurt?

Pain in your jaw is a symptom of a variety of conditions. Some of these are easy to fix and relatively harmless, while others are more difficult and can be harmful to your health.

Knowing what type of pain you have and where it is coming from can help you identify why your jaw hurts. In this blog post, we’ll explain some of the conditions that might make your jaw hurt, what this pain will probably feel like, and the cause.

 

7 Possible Causes of Your Jaw Pain:

This is not an exhaustive list of causes, but these are some of the most common conditions causing jaw pain.

  1. Pain from a Cavity
  2. Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)
  3. Gum disease
  4. Bruise
  5. Sinus Infection
  6. Cracked or Damaged Tooth
  7. Tooth infection

1. Pain from a Cavity

How it feels: dull pain localized to one area, worsens with brushing, flossing or eating sugary drinks or foods.

A cavity is one issue that can make your jaw hurt. A cavity is a small hole in your tooth caused by acid-producing bacteria. When these bacteria eat through the tooth’s tough outer surface, the enamel, they then start to eat away the softer inner tissues. The deeper or larger the cavity becomes, the more you will notice it.

At first, the cavity may not be very noticeable; you may notice it only when you eat or drink something hot, cold, or sugary, or you may notice it only when you touch the tooth. If you feel pain in your jaw, even if it is minor, see your dentist. Your dentist can fill the cavity and stop the tooth decay from worsening. If it persists, it can turn into a tooth infection, a dangerous condition we will cover later in the post.

2. Pain Caused by Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)

How it feels: soreness and aching in your jaw muscles, especially upon waking.

Bruxism is also known as teeth grinding. This can occur during the night while you sleep, or you may do it during the day without noticing. Bruxism is usually the result of stress. However, you may grind your teeth without realizing you are stressed. The longer you do it, the harder it is to stop and the more damage it will do to your teeth and jaw muscles.

If you have sleep bruxism, you will probably notice a sore ache in your jaw muscles when you wake up in the morning. If you have awake bruxism, you may catch yourself grinding your teeth throughout the day, and it may hurt to chew or yawn. Your dentist can give you a custom-fitted mouthguard to lessen the effects of sleep bruxism and protect your teeth. Since bruxism is often a sign of stress, it’s best to identify the triggers of your teeth grinding and avoid them, or learn other coping mechanisms.

3. Pain Caused by Gum Disease

If you have gun disease, hot or cold foods can be painful to eat.

How it feels: Pain in multiple areas when eating or drinking cold or hot foods.

Gum disease and periodontal disease occurs when bacteria build up in the pockets between the teeth and gums. Normally, these pockets should be between 1 and 3 mm deep. Deeper pockets are signs of gum disease and, the more advanced state, periodontal disease. When this occurs, it causes the gums to pull away from teeth, which can expose the softer tissues. This can cause pain in the teeth and jaw when eating or drinking hot or cold foods or drinks.

As periodontal disease progresses, the pain and sensitivity will get worse. Gum disease is preventable with diligent brushing, flossing, drinking water and avoiding sugary foods and drinks. Once the condition has set in, the damage can be undone with special techniques like scaling and root planing (SRP).

4. Pain from Face or Jaw Bruising

How it feels: Dull pain in one area, worse when eating, brushing, or touching the affected area.

If your face or jaw was recently struck, perhaps while playing sports or in a vehicle accident, the area may be bruised. This might not be immediately visible, or the visible signs may disappear while the pain remains.

Often, this is not a cause for concern. The bruised area will eventually heal on its own and the pain will subside. Applying ice can help. If the pain does not subside, or if you notice damage to the teeth around the affected area, your jaw may hurt because of another reason on the list.

5. Pain from Sinus Infection

How it feels: Pressure over the top jaw and a dull, aching pain.

Sometimes, your jaw hurts because of issues with other nearby structures, like the sinuses. The sinuses lay between the eyes, nose and mouth, and issues with the sinuses can cause pain to the top jaw. If you’ve recently had a cold and you still feel pain, pressure and fullness around your sinuses, you may have a sinus infection. This will cause a dull, consistent pain localized to your upper jaw. If both of your sinuses are infected, both sides will hurt. Otherwise, the pain will be focused to one side.

Sinus infections can go away on their own, but it’s still a good idea to see your doctor. Harvard Health Publishing explains that “85% of sinus infections improve or clear on their own, [but] there’s the 15% that do not. Potential complications are rare, but serious, and include brain infections, even abscesses.” If you have pain in your jaw around your sinuses for more than 10 days, or if your symptoms improved briefly, then got worse, you will probably need antibiotics.

6. Cracked or Damaged Tooth Pain

cracked or damaged tooth

How it feels: Sharp, stabbing pain in one area.

There are many ways that teeth can be damaged, and a cracked or damaged tooth can make your jaw hurt significantly. Sports injuries are among the most common causes of damaged teeth, however teeth that are already brittle from tooth decay can break more easily during less intense activities. If a tooth chips, cracks, or a crown or filling comes loose, the sensitive inner structures of the teeth will be exposed. When this happens, you will probably feel sharp, stabbing pains through your tooth and jaw.

If you notice a tooth has been damaged, see a dentist right away. The longer the tooth is exposed, the more vulnerable the inner structures will be, which puts you at risk of a tooth infection, which we will cover later in the post.

7. Pain from Tooth Infection

How it feels: Severe, persistent pain in the jaw, possibly extending to the face, head, or neck.

A tooth infection is a serious condition that can cause multiple other health issues if it is not resolved. If you have a tooth infection, you will probably notice swelling and discoloration around the gums or the tooth itself, as well as severe pain. You will feel this pain in your jaw, and it may extend to surrounding areas.

A tooth infection is caused by bacteria damaging the tooth root. This may occur around the gums or deeper, at the base of the tooth root. As your body attempts to fight off the bacteria, an abscess will form, which will appear as a tender, reddish mass filled with fluid. If the infection is underneath the gums at the tooth root, this will not be visible.

If you have a tooth infection, see a dentist immediately. The infected tooth can be extracted and the infection treated, or a root canal can save the tooth. If the infection is not treated, it can spread to the jaw, face, lymph nodes, or other structures. In some cases, an untreated tooth infection can cause sepsis, a life-threatening condition.


Now that you know what can cause your jaw to hurt and what each will feel like, you will know what to expect. Remember that any pain that is severe enough to distract you from your day-to-day activities should be treated. While some conditions can resolve on their own, it is best to be cautious and protect your oral health. If you have distracting pain in your jaw and you aren’t sure what it is or what to do, schedule an appointment at a dental office nearby. Our experienced dental professionals are happy to help.

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