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

Jaw pain may indicate a number of dental health issues like TMJ disorder, a toothache, or perhaps even more serious conditions. Here, our Lethbridge dentists explain the possible causes of jaw pain and what to do with those sore joints.

What causes jaw pain?

Jaw pain may indicate a dental issue like a toothache, TMD, or possibly, an even more serious condition. 

TMJ Disorders

One of the most common causes of jaw pain is TMJ Disorder. The temporomandibular joint connects the temporal bones of your skill (located just below your temple and in front of your ear), with your jawbone. This hinge is critical to a wide variety fo activities you engage in every day, including eating, speaking, breathing and more.  

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

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder may include:

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

If you suspect that you have a problem with your TMJ, ask your dentist so that they can recommend you treatments or a series of exercises. Sometimes, surgeries or prescription drugs may also be required to address the issue.


While we take many routine vaccinations throughout our childhood that have eliminated many diseases and made others quite uncommon, it's possible that you may contract a disease that causes jaw pain among 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.


Just like other bones in your body, your jaw can become fractured or dislocated. After taking a blow to the jaw, you may experience:

  • Pain
  • Bruises
  • Swelling
  • Loose or missing teeth

Depending on the injury, you may need to see your dentist if the pain doesn’t go away, you are missing teeth or you’re unable to chew or open and close your mouth. Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen may help, in addition to dental treatment if necessary.

Dental Issues

A variety of dental issues can lead to a sore jaw. These can include:

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

These problems should be addressed as soon as possible, and fractured teeth are dental emergencies, so you should see your dentist right away. Until then, keep the tooth that hurts clean and try rinsing with warm water.

Cysts or Tumors

Not typically cancerous, odontogenic cysts or tumors can quickly begin to impact your teeth. Surgery may be required to remove them.

Cluster Headaches

One of the most painful kinds of headaches a person can experience, cluster headaches may result in pain around or behind one eye and radiating down to reach the jaw. 


This kind of infection, referred to as anaerobic osteomyelitis, occurs in bone tissues in your body and can impact your lower jawbone. It can cut off blood supply to your jaw and damage bone tissue if left untreated.

How can I get rid of jaw pain?

At-Home Care

  • Avoid caffeine (which can potentially contribute to muscle tension)
  • 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)
  • 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 Hall Dental Centre, our dentists will discuss your symptoms with you, complete a comprehensive oral examination, explain possible treatment options, and develop a custom treatment plan that may include a mouthguard or other measures depending on your needs. 

In some rare cases, oral surgery for TMJ Disorder may be recommended to correct the issue when a patient is experiencing severe pain or suffering from structural issues as a result of their disorder and hasn't been able to find relief through other methods. 

If you are experiencing jaw pain contact our Lethbridge dentists to book an appointment today.

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Nervous about your dentist appointment? Have questions about your treatment? Hall Dental can help!

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(403) 380-3881