What Causes Abnormal Jaw Pains and How to Treat It

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What Causes Abnormal Jaw Pains and How to Treat It

There are several conditions that can lead to pain in the jaw. Some are fairly benign while others are serious. Whatever the cause, a person with a painful jaw should be seen by an orthodontist, a medical professional who specializes in problems with the jaws and the bite. Here are some conditions that may cause jaw pain and how to treat them:

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

These are problems that affect the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. This joint is found both sides of the lower jaw. It allows the mouth to open and close in conjunction with the muscles and the nerves in the jaw and the skull. Pain can arise when something goes wrong with one or more than one of these systems. The cause can be:

Arthritis in the Jaw

The jaw is a joint, and like other joints in the body it is subject to osteoarthritis. This happens when the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bone start to wear away, and the bones start to grind against each other.


This is when the patient grinds their teeth, often at night while they’re asleep. The grinding may be loud enough to wake the person next to them. Some of the symptoms are a tightness in the jaw muscles and a jaw that locks. The jaw, face and neck are also painful or sore.

Autoimmune Disorders

An autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to pain in the jaw.

  • Symptoms of TMJ Disorders include:

    A dull ache on one side of the jaw that may be in the temple, the back of the head, in front of the patient’s ear or along their jaw. It can start gradually or come on suddenly.

    • Pain when chewing
    • Popping sounds in the jaw
    • A jaw that can’t open all the way without pain
    • A jaw that locks
    • A toothache
    • A headache and aches in the shoulders and neck
    • Dizziness
    • Ears that ring or feel stopped up


    Jaw pain that comes from TMJ can respond to over-the-counter pain medications in some patients. If these drugs are not strong enough, the orthodontist can prescribe stronger analgesics, usually types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Other medications include antidepressants and muscle relaxants. Muscle relaxants are used on a fairly short-term basis.

Sometimes treatment for a TMJ disorder might be an adjustment in the patient’s diet or teaching them jaw exercises that help their jaw to relax and stretch properly. The orthodontist may also treat the patient with ultrasound and warm and cold compresses to help with the pain. Some people benefit from psychological counseling that helps them handle stressors that make their pain worse.

The orthodontist can also fit a patient with occlusal appliances such as mouth guards or oral splints. Though these devices do work, no one is quite sure why.

If conservative methods don’t work, the orthodontist may recommend surgery to ease the pain of TMJ disorders. There are several of these surgeries.

Arthrocentesis. In this treatment, the orthodontist places tiny needles in the joint then irrigates the joint to wash out debris that might be causing the jaw to become inflamed.

TMJ arthroscopy. The orthodontist uses miniaturized surgical tools to repair the jaw. This cuts down on the risks of surgery such as bleeding and infection.

Modified condylotomy. This is surgery on the mandible, which is the lower jaw. It is chosen to treat both pain and locking.

Open joint surgery. This surgery, also called arthrotomy, is used to fix or even replace the joint of the jaw. It is the last resort if nothing else works. In this surgery, the orthodontic surgeon can put the disc back into place if it is out of place, or remove it. They can reshape the bone or use a graft from the muscle of the patient’s temple to place in the joint space to keep the bones from rubbing together. Some surgeons even take bone grafts from the patient’s ribs.

Other Causes of Jaw Pain
Jaw Fracture
The jaw can be fractured by a blow or a fall. The jaw is not only painful but bruised and swollen, and there may be numbness in the lower lip. If a broken jaw isn’t treated, it may heal improperly and be misaligned. A minor fracture can be eased by rest, painkillers and a soft food diet. But surgery is needed to repair a severe fracture.

Jaw Dislocation
A dislocation is when the TMJ is unseated and the mandible is out of alignment. The symptoms are the same as for a jaw fracture. The doctor gives the patient muscle relaxants to help the joint relocate and bandages the jaw.

Call Tisseront Orthodontics Today To Schedule an Appointment
At Tisseront Orthodontics in Reston, Va., you can have an examination from our knowledgeable orthodontist. Dr. Stephen Tisseront provides orthodontic treatments for adults, teenagers, and children with these devices:

• Aligners – designed using Invisalign software
• Braces – metal, ceramic and lingual
• Retainers – to keep teeth in position after orthodontic treatment ends
• Surgical orthodontics – removal of baby or extra teeth

Our patients can have iTero archwires designed at our orthodontic office, and we also offer Acceledent Aura devices to reduce treatment time. Call us today at 703-773-1200 to schedule an examination with Dr. Tisseront in our state-of-the-art orthodontic facility.

Tisseront Orthodontics
11720 Plaza America Drive, Ste. 110 Reston VA 20190-4762