Everything You Need to Know About Jaw Pain

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A black woman experiencing jaw pain at the dentist's office

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Jaw pain can be a debilitating condition due to anything from a toothache, to something as serious as a heart attack. The pain can range from a dull and constant ache to sharp, sudden pain when you open your mouth. 

Your jawbone, also called a mandible, connects to your skull at a pair of joints just in front of your ears known as the temporomandibular joints, or TMJs

Your jaw might make a popping or clicking sound when you move it. Having jaw pain can make it difficult to eat or speak. Most jaw pain is due to an abnormality or injury to the joint of your jaw, but there could be other possible causes, and it’s important to determine which one so that you can get relief. 

Causes of Jaw Pain

Jaw pain can be caused by various factors, ranging from simple sinuses to other more serious medical diagnoses.

TMJ Disorder

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is one of the most common causes of jaw pain. You may know this as TMJ. However, TMJ only refers to the joint, while “TMD” is the painful condition in the joint. TMD can cause pain in your jaw, face, neck, and even your shoulders. Common TMD symptoms include difficulty opening and closing your mouth, a clicking or popping sound when you move your jaw, and pain when you chew. 

Jaw pain from TMD can be caused by: 

  • Misalignment in the teeth or jaws
  • An improper bite
  • Excessive gum chewing
  • Arthritis
  • An injury to the head, neck, or face
  • Teeth grinding
  • Stress
  • Accidentally biting on a hard object

Your healthcare provider or dentist may suggest treatments such as a dental splint, muscle relaxants, or physical therapy.


Stress can also be a source of jaw pain. When you are stressed, your whole body tenses up, including your facial muscles. This tension can lead to tightness in your jaw muscles, which may cause pain when you move them. 


Toothaches can cause radiating pain to the jaw and other areas of your face. Radiating means that the pain can be felt in other areas, even though the source of the pain is your tooth. This may happen when the nerves in our teeth become inflamed or irritated, resulting in jaw pain.

Teeth Grinding

Unconsciously clenching or grinding your teeth is known as bruxism. If you grind your teeth, you may notice wearing down of your teeth, headaches, or pain in your jaw.  

Sinus Problems

Your sinuses are air-filled cavities close to your jaw joints whose job is to filter air and add moisture. When your sinuses get irritated or infected, they make excess mucus that can cause pressure in your sinuses, and jaw joints. If you think you might have a sinus infection, see your healthcare provider. You might need antibiotics or other treatments that may help relieve the symptoms. If your sinuses stay swollen for longer than three months, you may have a condition called chronic sinusitis.

Nerve and Muscle Pain

Nerve pain happens when the nerves in your head or neck become irritated or inflamed. A common nerve that impacts your face and jaw is the trigeminal nerve, which runs through your cheeks and jaw. 

This type of pain is often caused by an infection or injury to the head or neck area. It can also be caused by a disorder that affects the nerves, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or trigeminal neuralgia.

Referred pain (pain that you feel in one area of your body due to injury or pain in another area of the body) can happen in the jaw due to problems with the temporalis muscle, one of the muscles involved in chewing.

Other More Serious Problems

While many harmless conditions can cause jaw pain, discomfort may also be a symptom of something more serious. If your jaw pain is accompanied by difficulty breathing, chest pain, or swelling in the face, see your healthcare provider right away, as this could be a sign of heart disease or other medical conditions. 

How to Relieve Jaw Pain

If you're experiencing jaw pain, here are some tips that may help relieve the discomfort:

  • Apply an ice pack or warm compress: Applying ice or heat to the area can reduce inflammation and relax the muscles around the jaw. Try applying it for 15 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications: Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or Tylenol (acetaminophen) can help to reduce swelling and lessen any pain you may feel.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Stress is often one of the causes of jaw pain, and relaxation techniques may help to reduce tension in your face. Try deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation for a few minutes each day.
  • Massage your jaw: Gently kneading the muscles can help to reduce tension. Try making small circles with your fingertips and use firm pressure. If you can, do this for 10-15 seconds. Repeat throughout the day as you need it.
  • Limit jaw movements: Avoid any activities that may cause further irritation or inflammation to your jaw, such as excessive chewing. Talking and yawning should be done gently and with care. If your job requires you to talk a lot, try to take regular breaks and focus on relaxing your jaw. 
  • Avoid hard foods: Eating softer foods will reduce the strain on your jaw muscles, which can help reduce pain. Avoid sticky, crunchy, and chewy foods like nuts and taffy. Think of foods that are soft, like oatmeal, mashed potatoes, or scrambled eggs. 
  • Wear a mouthguard: Are you grinding your teeth at night? It can lead to more serious issues for your teeth and cause tension in the jaw muscles. Wearing a custom-fitted dental guard may help to protect your teeth from damage and reduce tension in the jaw muscles. Talk to your dentist about how to get one.
  • See a healthcare provider: If you're having persistent or severe pain, it's important to visit your healthcare provider, like a dentist. They can diagnose the cause of your pain and recommend appropriate treatments. Jaw pain can be a symptom of something more serious. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If your jaw pain persists despite at-home remedies, it's time to see a your healthcare provider. In some cases, the cause of your pain may be serious. Jaw pain can indicate an infection or injury and may require medical attention.

Sometimes, life-threatening heart problems can cause jaw pain, so it's important to get it checked out.  Also, if you experience difficulty breathing or any other concerning symptoms such as fever or dizziness, seek help right away.

A Quick Review

Jaw pain can range from a dull ache to sharp pain when you open your mouth. Common causes of jaw pain include TMJ disorders and stress. You can relieve jaw pain by taking over-the-counter medications, using ice packs or warm compresses, stretching your facial muscles, gentle massage, and avoiding certain foods that put a strain on the jaw muscles. If your symptoms persist despite at-home remedies, it’s time to see your healthcare provider, as jaw pain can be a sign of an infection, injury, or even something more serious. 

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8 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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