What Causes A Sore Jaw?

There are many different things that can cause a sore jaw. It's almost a wonder then that we aren't in pain most of the time. Most times a sore jaw is easily treated. In many cases, taking a pain reliever is all that's required, since whatever caused the pain in the first place has come and gone.

Primary Causes

Often we know why our jaw is sore. If we get hit in the mouth or the jaw area hard enough, the cause of the soreness is readily apparent. If we have a sinus infection, pain is sometimes experienced in the jaw area. Once we clear up the sinus infection, the jaw soreness goes away. An infection in the ear can have the same effect. If we are having a dental problem, or for that matter have had one or more teeth removed, having a sore jaw for a short period of time is to be expected. A tooth abscess will almost invariably cause a certain amount of pain in the jaw.

Arthritis In The Jaw?

There are other causes which may not be so obvious, one of them being arthritis. We usually think of arthritis as something that primarily affects the joints in our hands, shoulders, or hips, forgetting that we have a rather large joint, called the temporomandibular joint, controlling the jawbone. This joint is so named because it connects the jawbone (mandible) to the temporal bone of the skill. This joint moves whenever we eat or whenever we talk, so if it were to become inflamed, the resulting pain or soreness could be quite noticeable. Inflammation of the jaw joint may not be all that common, but a joint is a joint, so experiencing arthritis in the jaw joint is always a possibility.

Secondary Causes

The causes of jaw pain noted above fall in the category of primary causes, those things which are happening in the immediate vicinity of the jaw bone or in the jaw itself. The other category, secondary causes, are those things which sometimes can drive both doctors and patients crazy. There are times when a disorder in one part of our body causes pain in another part of our body. The nervous system is somewhat notorious for causing pain or numbness in a place far removed from where an injury has occurred, or where a disorder is present. A heart condition can sometimes cause symptoms that are felt in the jaw, and a sore jaw can therefore be a precursor to a heart attack. When this is the case, there are usually accompanying symptoms, such as pain in the arm, shoulder, or chest, or shortness of breath. If your jaw is sore but there are no other symptoms, the problem most likely has something to do with the jaw itself. If there are accompanying symptoms, seek medical help.

A Rare But Serious Complication

Since jaw pain is most often quite localized, we seldom consider it to be a serious condition. If jaw pain is persists and it is ignored however, it could sometimes lead to a dangerous situation in the event an infection is present. If untreated, a condition known as sepsis could occur. Sepsis is the spreading of an infection into the bloodstream. This can cause widespread inflammation, possibly accompanied by blood clotting. Sepsis can become life-threatening. While infections that are not treated will not necessarily lead to sepsis, this complication can sometimes occur. If caught early, sepsis usually responds to treatment. Any time we experience pain, and believe an infection might be causing the pain, seeking medical help is always a good idea.

See Your Dentist

As far as treatment is concerned, if jaw soreness appears to be chronic, or the pain is simply too much to bear, the first stop should be at the dentist's office, since most of the time a sore jaw is a result of something  happening to the teeth or the gums. The dentist may resolve the problem, may refer your to your doctor, or may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist. If the teeth or gums are not causing the problem, and the soreness is not due to a condition such as a sinus or ear infection, the problem could lie in the temporomandibular joint itself. An ear, nose and throat specialist may be able to prescribe treatment, or another specialist might need to be called in.

Since the joint in the jaw is one of the most heavily used joints in the body, if not the most heavily used, it is to be expected that over time it may suffer some wear and tear. This doesn't mean experiencing a sore jaw due to a joint problem is inevitable. Such a problem can usually be avoided simply by following good nutrition practices. Occasionally stretching and exercising the neck muscles, as well as the jaw muscles, is a good practice as well. The joint itself should be left alone, which is to say it should not be directly massaged, as it is rather fragile and may not respond favorably to direct pressure.