The jaw is one of the most used joints in the human body, utilised when speaking, chewing, drinking, swallowing, yawning, breathing and when making facial expressions. Jaw pain is extremely common and can be caused by a variety of conditions including dental issues, musculoskeletal disorders and conditions brought on by stress, such as jaw clenching or teeth grinding.
Active Release Technique, manual manipulation and exercises can generally help sufferers of jaw pain.
Jaw pain can make it difficult to chew and swallow food
Did you know?
About 30% of children grind or clench their teeth.
source: Sleep Health Foundation
Made up of the mandible (lower jaw) and maxilla (upper jaw), the medical term used to describe the jaw joint is the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). This joint connects the jaw to the skull, enabling a range of vital functions including eating, speaking and breathing. When a person experiences issues with their jaw, it is commonly referred to as ‘temporomandibular disorder/disfunction’ (TMD).
Often jaw pain can be relieved simply by becoming more aware of stress-related habits such as jaw clenching and teeth grinding. For jaw pain associated with these conditions, small lifestyle changes such as practicing relaxation techniques, improving posture and jaw stretching exercises may be suffice for relieving pain. It is also common for jaw pain to be related to whiplash or dental issues, such as gum disease or sinus problems – it can sometimes even be mistaken for a toothache.
In some cases however, jaw pain can indicative of a more serious underlying illnesses or disease which requires further medical attention. In extreme cases, it can also be a symptom of heart attack. For those suffering from persistent jaw pain, it’s important to speak to your doctor or preferred health practitioner, to determine its the root cause.
Soft tissue treatment, dynamic postural training, mobilisation and manual manipulation of the region from the thorax and rib cage to the cervical vertebrae and its surrounding affected soft tissue can help to ease the symptoms of jaw pain.
Causes of jaw pain
- Jaw dislocation
- Coronary artery disease (Angina)
- Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
- Teeth clenching – usually caused by stress
- Dental conditions, such as an abscessed tooth
- Overbite or underbite
- Teeth grinding (Bruxism)
- Trauma to the jaw (eg. whiplash or a heavy blow)
- Arthritis in the jaw joint
- Myofascial pain
- Wisdom tooth extraction
- Masticatory muscle dysfunction
- Trigeminal neuralgia (Tic douloureux)
Other symptoms of jaw pain
Different people experience different sensations when experiencing jaw pain. Depending on the cause and associated condition resulting in the pain, some people feel constant pain, while others only when doing activities which provoke it (eg. eating or yawning).
Jaw pain can describe the following conditions:
- A clicking jaw
- A popping jaw
- Pain or discomfort when chewing
- Lock jaw
- Facial pain
- Face swelling
- Headaches or migraines
- Earaches or ear pain
- Problems with opening mouth
- Problems with clenching jaw
- Tooth pain
- An uneven bite
Top tips for jaw care
- maintain a good posture
- wear a night guard
- practice relaxation techniques
- use heat or ice packs to ease pain
- eat softer foods and avoid chewy or tough foods
- learn to become more self-aware of jaw clenching / teeth grinding
- take painkillers such as paracetamol or aspirin
Effective treatment of jaw pain
Common treatments for on-going jaw pain include Active Release Technique, dynamic postural training, cranial nerve mobilisation and manipulation.
For jaw pain requiring further treatment, options can include anaesthesia injections, dental work, Transcutaneous Electrica Nerve Stimulation (TENS) or in severe case, surgery may be required.
This page has been produced, reviewed and approved by:
Dr Shermain Wong
BAppSc (Chiropractic), Masters (Clinical Chiropractic)
Dr Shermain Wong is a chiropractor at Jurmaine Health with expertise in general treatment and over 6 years experience.
With a Masters in Clinical Chiropractic from RMIT University, Shermain has provided chiropractic and movement rehabilitation services at international sporting competitions, professional dancers, professional football players and professional athletes.
At Jurmaine Health, she helps patients address and treat common musculoskeletal symptoms and conditions, including back pain, neck pain; shoulder pain; nerve pain, joint pain and many other conditions
She is a member of Sport Medicine Australia, College of Osteopathy and Chiropractic Association, Australian Association of Musculoskeletal Medicine and International Society of Clinical Rehabilitation Specialists.
With her experience in Sports Medicine and treating Sports Injuries, she is a sought after expert for professional athletes and sports clubs. She has worked with the Coburg Lions VFL club, Melbourne Ice Hockey Women, World Ironman Championships, Australia CrossFit Regionals and others.
This document was last updated and reviewed in May 2016.