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Why Does My Jaw Ache?


When your jaw hurts, it can throw your whole life out of balance, especially if you don’t know why your jaw is hurting or when it will stop. Thankfully, many causes of jaw pain are temporary and don’t require much intervention, but occasionally jaw pain is a sign of something a bit more serious. But how do you know the difference - and when should you see a doctor? If you’ve got jaw pain, check out these possible reasons why, and what you should do to stop it.


While superficial surface-enamel cavities aren’t usually painful, believe it or not, if a cavity gets severe enough, it can cause your whole jaw to hurt. This usually occurs if the cavity eats away to the tooth’s dentin. So, how can you tell if this is the case with your own tooth and jaw pain? Unfortunately it may not be possible, depending on the location of the cavity. But if you are experiencing unrelenting jaw pain, or jaw pain with tooth pain, call Dr. Simpson’s office and make an appointment to have it checked out.

Hopefully it’s nothing, but the longer you let a cavity go untreated, the worse it will get - in fact, if it gets severe, you may need a root canal!

Oral Infection

Another possible reason your jaw hurts is an infection of either the tooth, gums or the jawbone itself. Tooth infections are usually caused by untreated cavities, but a more sinister culprit may be at hand when it comes to your gums: periodontitis, or advanced gum disease. While it may seem strange that gum disease would cause jaw pain, it’s actually quite common. That’s because your jawbone and tissue can become infected by periodontitis, too. In fact, in severe cases, patients have been known to lose portions of their entire jaw to periodontitis.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Your wisdom teeth, or third molars, are essentially useless teeth. Some people get them, some people don’t. If you’re lucky enough to have space for them, wisdom teeth are no big deal, but if you have crowding in your mouth already, those unnecessary teeth can become a real pain in the jaw. That’s because without the room to come out, wisdom teeth become stuck below the surface of the gums - or impacted - and will need to be removed.

This can cause all kinds of jaw pain, and it will only get worse if you ignore it. Partially impacted wisdom teeth are prone to a bacterial infection called pericoronitis, and if ignored, a fully impacted wisdom tooth can cause a cyst that can damage the jawbone surrounding gum tissue.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ Disorder)

Temporomandibular joint disorder (or TMJD) affects an estimated 10 million Americans, but many don’t know they even have it. Temporomandibular joint disorder occurs when the temporomandibular joint of the jaw is out of alignment. This misalignment can cause pain when opening and closing the mouth, chewing and speaking and can even lead to the inability to open the mouth. It also causes clicking or popping when the mouth is opened or closed, tinnitus (ringing of the ears), migraine headaches, neck and back pain, and bruxism. Bruxism, or teeth grinding, is a major culprit for jaw pain, because your two sets of teeth are constantly pushing into each other.

Thankfully, many patients with TMJ disorder and/or bruxism can be successfully treated with either a bite guard or neuromuscular dentistry, or both. If you believe you could have TMJ disorder or bruxism, speak to Dr. Simpson about your treatment options.

Sinus or Ear Infection

Why would a sinus infection make your jaw hurt? It seems a little weird, but sinus and ear infections can send pain reverberating through your jaw due to the excess pressure in your sinus cavity. This can occur for many reasons, including sinus-cavity swelling, pressure, or excess infected tissue that has spread to surrounding areas including the ears and throat. If you think you may have a sinus infection, speak to your primary care physician or ENT about starting a course of antibiotics.

Jaw pain can come from many sources - and as you can see, not all of them are from your jaw. The good news is that many of them can be easily treated, and sometimes they don’t need treatment at all, like if your jaw is just sore from chewing gum all day or talking more than usual. Sometimes even stress causes jaw pain.

If you are at all concerned with any pain - jaw or otherwise - seek medical attention. If your jaw pain is ever accompanied by shoulder pain, this could be the sign of an imminent heart attack, so call 911 immediately.

For any other concerns about tooth or jaw pain, or any other oral health-related pain, please call Dr. Simpson at 910-550-3959.

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