Jaw pain can be a mysterious problem that comes on suddenly. In many cases, short-term jaw pain is simply caused by overworking the joint. It is a similar injury to those you might get to a knee or elbow joint from exercising or playing sports. You may have done something you don’t usually do, like chewing gum for several hours.
Jaw Pain from Overuse
If your jaw pain is caused by overuse, it will usually heal with some rest. Avoid chewing gum and shift your diet to softer foods so you won’t have to work your jaw so much. An over-the-counter pain reliever may also help make you more comfortable until your jaw recovers.
But overuse is only one reason for jaw pain. Toothaches, gum disease, sinus problems, and even some medications can make your jaw keep hurting, even after resting. Other conditions like TMJ/TMD and tooth grinding can cause long-term jaw pain. And jaw pain can also indicate other serious health problems.
Other Jaw Pain Causes
When resting doesn’t help, it is time to see Dr. Schraw. Dentists are the most specialized health care providers in treating problems with the mouth and jaw. At your visit, Dr. Schraw will examine your teeth and jaw to help determine what might be causing your pain. In the case of sinus problems or pain caused by osteoporosis drugs (tell Dr. Schraw if you are taking these), you’ll be referred to your primary care doctor. However, in most cases, the jaw pain will be a dental-related problem.
Common dental problems that cause jaw pain are infections in the form of cavities, abscessed teeth, and gum disease. A simple oral examination and X-rays can help determine if the pain is being caused by infection; or by problems with the muscles, bone, and nerves of the jaw. The two most common problems related to the muscles and nerves of the jaw are bruxism and TMD.
Bruxism is the word dentists use for teeth grinding and clenching. Many people don’t realize they grind their teeth because it happens while they are sleeping. A custom-fit night guard, molded specifically to your teeth is one way to prevent nighttime tooth grinding and relieve jaw pain. These are similar to sports mouth guards and they prevent the teeth from rubbing together.
If you suspect nighttime grinding is causing your jaw pain and you also know you snore, it is especially important that you come for a visit. Tooth grinding, combined with snoring, has been linked to sleep apnea. Sleep apnea actually causes you to stop breathing while you are asleep. The most recent research suggests that grinding is actually a way to help your body wake up when your airway becomes blocked and causes you to stop breathing. If you have sleep apnea, you don’t want to use one of those standard night guards because it can actually contribute to blocking the airway. Instead, Dr. Schraw can create a specialized sleep apnea mouthguard.
TMD (temporomandibular disorder) refers to problems with the jaw joint. People with TMD may have clicking, popping, or grating when they open their mouths. They may also feel they can only open their jaw a small amount or the jaw may get stuck in one position. Posture, bruxism, stress, and injury may all be factors in TMD, but there is often no clear cause.
TMD and bruxism can sometimes be difficult to treat. Traditional therapies like mouth guards, splints, ice packs, and resting the jaw require constant attention by the patient. These methods often provide at least partial relief of the pain, but it is often hard for people to keep up the routine for long periods of time. Splints, for example, must be worn all day long and nighttime bite guards are often considered uncomfortable.
For many years, when traditional treatments didn’t work or were too hard to maintain, there weren’t any other good options. But that has changed, giving Dr. Schraw another option for treating jaw pain.
Botox, the same drug you know about as a wrinkle remover, has a number of therapeutic uses. Studies have shown that patients receiving Botox injections have experienced significantly less facial pain and in the case of TMD have even regained the ability to open their mouths more completely. Understanding that these breakthroughs could help many of her patients, Dr. Schraw underwent training to administer Botox and has helped many patients with mysterious jaw pain.
The truth about jaw pain is that sometimes it is easy to find the cause and sometimes the reason for the jaw pain remains a mystery. But even with mysterious jaw pain, there are now treatment options that can help relieve even stubborn pain.