What is jaw pain?
Jaw pain is any kind of pain or discomfort in the jaw area, which includes the lower jaw (mandible, often referred to as the jaw bone), temporomandibular joint (TMJ or jaw joint), and surrounding soft tissues. The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jaw to the temporal bone of the skull and is responsible for bringing the lower and upper jaws together. It is one of the most frequently used joints in the body.
Depending on the underlying cause, jaw pain can occur suddenly or build up over time. You may feel a dull ache, or it may be so painful that you can’t open your mouth to eat. Jaw pain may be triggered by various activities, such as eating, swallowing or merely touching the jaw area, as is the case with trigeminal neuralgia.
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One of the most common reasons for jaw pain is stress to the temporomandibular joint, leading to temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. The temporomandibular joint is immediately in front of the ear on each side of your head. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues surround the joint. TMD can be caused by wear and tear, injury, or disease of the joint and surrounding soft tissue.
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Jaw pain can also be a sign of various other diseases, disorders and conditions. Relatively mild conditions, such as teeth grinding, can cause jaw pain. More serious conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, infection, and neuralgia. Jaw pain is also considered one of the hallmark warning signs of a heart attack.
If you are experiencing jaw pain in conjunction with chest pain or pain that radiates to your arm and shoulder, sweating, or shortness of breath, you may be having a heart attack. This is an immediately life-threatening medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911).
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- Jaw pain and heart attacks. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/9486.htm
- Osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ). American College of Rheumatology. http://www.rheumatology.org/practice/clinical/patients/diseases_and_conditions/onj.asp
- TMJ disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001227.htm
- Trigeminal Neuralgia Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/trigeminal_neuralgia/detail_trigeminal_neuralgia.htm