Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Chronic Jaw Pain

Apr 13, 2023

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Chronic Jaw Pain

You may feel tempted to ignore chronic jaw pain as something normal but uncomfortable. Learn more about why ignoring it is a bad idea.

Chronic jaw pain can seem like a fact of life that you can do little or nothing to help. You might feel tempted just to try to “suck it up” and ignore it. But sometimes, jaw pain can be a signal that something more serious might be wrong.

Chronic jaw pain can have many causes, from minor to more serious. Usually, it’s relatively minor, but it is treatable. Dr. Eric Klein, DDS, explains more about the causes of chronic jaw pain and why you shouldn’t ignore it.

The most common cause of jaw pain

The causes of jaw pain are wide and varied. But the most common cause of chronic jaw pain is a problem with your temporomandibular joint, which acts like a hinge attaching the bones of your jaw to your facial muscles. This is also called TMJ disorder. When you have TMJ disorder, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw tenderness
  • Pain when chewing
  • Clicking when opening and closing your mouth
  • Headaches
  • Earaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain

These are the most common symptoms of TMJ disorder. But fortunately, it’s treatable.

Other causes of jaw pain

Other things can cause jaw pain as well. Among them are:

  • Toothache
  • Trauma, including knocking out a tooth
  • An abscess under your tooth, which is very serious
  • Bruxism or grinding your teeth
  • Arthritis
  • Oral cancer (only in rare cases)

You should consult the dentist any time you have chronic pain in your jaw that doesn’t go away. Most often, the cause is TMJ disorder, but we could miss something much more serious without checking on it.

How to treat TMJ disorder

Diseases of the temporomandibular joint are, unfortunately, relatively common. But that doesn’t mean that you just have to learn to live with the pain! We have several treatment options at our disposal.

Most often, you’ll start with the most conservative treatment. We don’t want to over-treat your symptoms unnecessarily. Conservative treatment options include:

  • Applying moist heat or ice packs to reduce swelling
  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) or naproxen (Aleve®.) Although you can use acetaminophen (Tylenol®), it generally isn’t as effective at providing pain relief for dental pain.
  • Massaging the affected joint 
  • Stress reduction, including journaling and yoga
  • Avoiding chewy or crunchy foods, such as apples, beef jerky, and gum

In addition, you may want to wear a night guard to protect your jaw muscles from further damage while you sleep. 

Treat your jaw alignment

Sometimes, a case of chronic jaw pain is due to something as simple as a bad “bite” or misaligned teeth.

Some cases of jaw pain are clearly traced back to previous dental work, such as having a crown put in place. In these cases, sometimes all that we need to do is file down the crown a few millimeters to restore your normal bite.

Other times, however, your teeth are misaligned, and you must fix their alignment. We do this by using aligners. These aligners are made out of clear, thermoplastic material. They are custom-made to fit your teeth, and you should wear them for 20-22 hours a day, only taking them out to eat or drink. You’ll swap out each aligner for a different one every few weeks as your jaw begins to move.

If you have chronic jaw pain, don’t ignore it any longer. We can help. Contact Dr. Eric Klein, DDS, or request an appointment online at our office in Norwalk, Connecticut.