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

If you are suffering from jaw pain it could be a sign that you have TMJ disorder, a dental condition such as a toothache, or a more serious problem. Here, our dentists in Vancouver discuss some of the potential causes of jaw pain and how you can manage your discomfort.

Possible Causes of Jaw Pain

Jaw pain can indicate a dental issue such as a toothache, TMJ Disorder, or perhaps a more serious condition. In this post, our Vancouver dentists explain the possible causes of jaw pains and what to do if you experience them.

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 facial and jaw 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 the joint.

Causes of TMJ Disorders can include:

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

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

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

If you suspect a problem with your TMJ, see your dentist so he or she can recommend treatment or exercises. Sometimes, prescription drugs or surgery may be required to address the issue.


Though we take many routine vaccines in childhood that 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 spending weeks in hospital.


As it is with the other bones in the human body, your jaw is capable of becoming dislocated or fractured. After being hit in your jaw, you might experience: 

  • Bruises
  • Pain
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Swelling

Based on your injury, you might have to book an appointment with your dentist if your pain doesn't resolve, you can't chew or open your mouth, or if you are missing teeth. Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen could help alleviate discomfort, on top of any dental treatments if they are needed.

Dental Issues

There is a handful of dental conditions that can cause a sore jaw such as: 

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

All of the issues listed here need to be treated as fast as possible, fractured teeth are also considered dental emergencies so you will have to visit your dentist immediately. Until you can see your dentist, keep your sore tooth clean and rinse your mouth with warm water.

Cysts or Tumors

Odontogenic cysts or tumors typically aren't cancerous. However, they can start negatively affecting your teeth and might need surgery to be removed. 

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are known to be one of the most painful kinds of headaches and can cause pain behind or around one eye, which could radiate to the jaw.


This is a kind of infection that develops in the bone and has the ability to affect your mandible (lower jaw). This condition is known as anaerobic osteomyelitis, and if it is left untreated it could cut off the blood supply to your jaw and damage bone tissue.

How to Stop Jaw Pain

At-Home Care

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Apply a warm, wet washcloth or ice pack covered in cloth to your jaw (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off)
  • Avoid caffeine (which can potentially contribute to muscle tension)
  • Rub the affected joint. Massage the joint using your fingers, pressing the sore areas of your jaw and moving to the side of your neck.

Dental Care

If your jaw pain persists after at-home remedies, make an appointment with your dentist.

At Granville Station Dental, our dentists will talk to you about your symptoms, conduct a comprehensive oral examination, discuss possible options for treatment, and develop a customized treatment plan that might include a mouthguard or other measures depending on your requirements. 

In rare situations, oral surgery might be needed to treat TMJ Disorder in people that suffer from severe pain due to structural problems in their jaw and haven’t found relief with other treatment methods or remedies.

Contact our dentists in Vancouver today if you are experiencing jaw pain and schedule an appointment.

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