Unidentified Jaw Pain: What Does it Mean?

Any pain in the facial area is difficult to deal with, particularly if it is severe, frequent and interferes with your daily life. Jaw pain, a common complaint from men and women of varying ages, is especially challenging, as the discomfort may indicate one or more different conditions. In order to find sustainable relief for continuous jaw pain, it is first necessary to determine the cause of the sensation.

Analyze the Symptoms

Though your licensed healthcare professional is the only person who can definitively diagnose the condition behind the pain you are experiencing, there are some signs you can identify yourself in analyzing possible causes. In order to formulate a baseline for your oral surgeon, record your answers to the following questions:

  • How would you describe the pain specifically? Is it sharp, dull, aching, throbbing, or pinching?
  • Is the pain constant or does it only present itself when you eat, speak, etc.?
  • How long has the jaw pain been present?
  • Was there any injury or particular event that immediately preceded the pain?
  • Is there any history of chronic jaw or joint pain in your family?
  • Do you notice any popping or clicking noises when you move your bottom jaw?
  • Have you ever been told that you grind your teeth while you sleep?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with arthritis?
  • Have you had any recent dental work or surgery performed?
  • Do you ever experience headaches or neck aches in addition to the jaw pain?

Compiling this information for your oral surgeon will make it easier for him or her to accurately diagnose the condition that is causing your jaw pain.

Potential Jaw Conditions of Consideration

Temporomandibular joint disorders, or TMJ disorders, include a number of medical problems that directly affect the joint that hinges the bottom jaw to the skull. Examining x-rays of your skull and jaw, along with an assessment of your symptoms, will allow your oral surgeon to develop a treatment plan specifically tailored to your needs.

There are three main categories of TMJ disorders widely accepted in the field of dentistry. These are myofascial pain, arthritis and internal joint derangement.

  • Myofascial pain – This is the most commonly cited TMJ disorder. It affects the muscle groups that are directly responsible for the support and movement of joints and bone structures in the body. Most often, the affected patient reports a constant ache that is exacerbated by pressure and movement. Stiffness may diminish range of movement, making it difficult and painful to eat or speak. Pain is frequently unresponsive to ice, heat and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Arthritis – In patients who suffer from osteoarthritis, jaw discomfort can quickly become severe without treatment. The synovial fluid that surrounds the temporomandibular joint is not able to properly lubricate the jaw’s hinge due to persistent inflammation. Popping may occur during yawning on one or both sides of the skull. Patients with arthritis and TMJ pain have reported a limited range of motion due to the swelling in and around the joint itself.
  • Internal joint derangement – An articular disc made of strong and flexible cartilage facilitates the rotation of the temporomandibular joint. If this disc is displaced at any point during the opening or closing of the mouth, the ball and socket of the joint push on the surrounding tissues and nerves, causing severe pain.

Though TMJ disorders cause everything from mild discomfort to extreme pain, there are solutions to the problem. Inform your dentist of any symptoms you have that may indicate a problem with your temporomandibular joint in order to begin a treatment plan that targets your pain.

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