Unfortunately, jaw pain is all too common, and sometimes pinpointing the source can be difficult. Here are five possible causes of jaw pain.

1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)

The jaw joint, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ), is one of the most complex in the body. If you notice popping or clicking, or have difficulty opening or closing your jaw, TMD is likely the underlying cause of your jaw pain. TMD can also cause unexplained headaches, earaches, ringing in the ears, and pain in the face, neck, shoulders, and back. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist about your jaw joint and how to best address your TMD.

2. Bruxism  

Tooth clenching and grinding (bruxism) can also cause pain in the jaw. Both clenching and grinding put strain on the jaw muscles, which can lead to pain and discomfort.

If you notice flattened, chipped, or cracked teeth, an increase in tooth sensitivity, or worn enamel, bruxism may be the cause of your jaw pain. Talk to your dentist or orthodontist about treatment for your bruxism.  

3. Sinus Infection

A sinus infection occurs when the nasal passages become infected and can lead to symptoms that look very much like the common cold. Swelling from the infection can cause pain in the face, including in the jaw.

If you feel a dull ache or “pressure” in your face along with symptoms like a runny nose, congestion, headaches, and a sore throat, your jaw pain may be caused by a sinus infection. Make an appointment with your doctor to clear up the infection.

4. Oral Cancer

Approximately 50,000 people are diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancer each year in the U.S. Though relatively rare, these cancers can cause swelling and pain in the jaw.

If you notice other signs and symptoms of oral cancer such as a persistent sore in the mouth, a lump in the cheek, a red or white patch anywhere in the mouth, or numbness in the tongue, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. The pain in your jaw may be a small sign of something much bigger.

5. Heart Attack

Jaw pain is one of the lesser known symptoms of a heart attack. Unlike jaw pain from TMD, which is localized, jaw pain related to a heart attack is more intense and may be so severe it can wake someone out of sleep.

If you are experiencing other common symptoms of a heart attack along with jaw pain such as pressure or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, or nausea, seek immediate medical attention.

Easing Your Jaw Pain

This is just a short list of potential causes of jaw pain; others include physical injury, infected tooth, and rheumatoid arthritis. To figure out the cause of your jaw pain, speak to your family doctor, dentist, and/or orthodontist, and be sure to mention all other symptoms you’re experiencing, even if they seem unrelated. This is the best way to pinpoint the cause.