Jaw pain can be anything from mild discomfort to a debilitating condition affecting your ability to eat and speak. While many underlying conditions can cause pain, the most common cause of jaw pain is temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
At Soundview Family Dental, we understand how jaw pain can affect your quality of life, and we specialize in treating TMJ conditions. But how can you get rid of jaw pain fast? Do TMJ exercises really work?
- Common causes of jaw pain: TMJ disorder, sinus problems, tooth pain, cluster headaches.
- TMJ exercises: Strengthen, stretch, and relax jaw muscles, increase jaw mobility.
- Stress management: Reduce stress to prevent jaw clenching and grinding.
- Self-care measures: Massage, cold/hot compresses, soft diet, medication, mouthguard to relieve jaw pain.
- Avoiding triggers: Avoid hard or chewy foods, gum, excessive jaw movements to prevent worsening of jaw pain.
What causes jaw pain?
While most causes of jaw pain are due to problems within your jaw, there can be other causes. Here we take a closer look at some of the most common conditions that can contribute to jaw pain.
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorder (TMD)
You have two temporomandibular joints in your jaw located on each side, just in front of the ear. These connect your lower jaw or mandible to your skull. The joints allow for the opening and closing of your mouth and the side-to-side movement when you chew your food. TMDs occur when the joints sustain damage. It can be caused by grinding your teeth at night, clenching your jaw due to stress, trauma to the jaw, arthritis, or a genetic deformity.
Your sinuses are air-filled cavities that sit near your jaw joints. If you have cold, extreme congestion, or a sinus infection, it is not uncommon for the pressure in the sinuses to put pressure on your jaw and cause temporary pain and discomfort.
When you think of a heart attack, you think of chest pain. However, it can also occur in other body areas, including the jaw. This is especially true for women who commonly experience left-side jaw pain during a heart attack. If you experience other symptoms, such as chest discomfort and shortness of breath, with unexplained jaw pain, call 911 immediately to rule out a heart attack.
You have two trigeminal nerves, with one on each side of your face. These begin near the top of the ear and split into three, running toward the eyes, the cheeks, and the jaw. Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition that causes sharp shooting pain, often described as an electric shock, that goes to one of these areas. The pain is typically short, and these unpredictable attacks can last a few seconds to a few minutes.
If you have a toothache or decaying tooth, especially the back molars, this can cause pain to spread to other parts of the face. In many cases, this may feel like the pain is actually in the jaw, making you feel as though you have TMJ pain.
Cluster headaches are one of the most painful types of headaches. They typically cause pain around the eye, but the pain can radiate down into the jaw.
9 ways to relieve jaw pain
If jaw pain is becoming a part of your daily life, you will want to talk with your dental professional about the possibility of TMJ. The good news is that you can do some things at home to help relieve your jaw pain today.
1. TMJ exercises
TMJ exercises are designed to help strengthen the jaw muscles, stretch and relax the jaw, and increase jaw mobility. There are many different exercises that you can do in the comfort of your home that include:
- Relaxed jaw exercise: With your mouth closed, hold your tongue up against the roof of your mouth and your top teeth. Slowly let your lower jaw fall, keeping your tongue up against the top teeth.
- Chin tucks: Drop your chin towards your chest. Hold this position for a few seconds and then release.
- Goldfish exercises: Place your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Place one finger on your TMJ joint. Place your other hand on your chin and slowly pull down your chin, keeping your tongue in position.
- Resisted opening/closing: For the resisted opening, place your hand under your chin and gently open your mouth, pushing your lower jaw against your hand. For resisted closing, hold onto your chin and try and close your mouth against the resistance.
- Side-to-side movement: Slowly move your jaw from side to side. A good way is to put a popsicle stick between your teeth and slowly move your jaw across to the left and right.
- Tongue up: With your tongue on the roof of your mouth, slowly open and close your mouth, keeping your tongue in place.
- Forward movement: Slowly move your lower jaw outward, moving your lower teeth in front of your top teeth.
2. Stress management
Increased stress can cause you to clench your jaw or grind your teeth, often without you even knowing you are doing it. This pressure can contribute to stress on the joints and result in pain. Learning to manage or reduce your stress with tools such as journaling, meditation, yoga, or regular exercise can help reduce your stress levels and, in turn, reduce the stress on your joints and help ease the pain.
Oftentimes, the cause of TMJ pain is more in the jaw muscles than the joint itself. Regular TMJ massage can often help to relax the muscles and help reduce your pain levels. The masseter muscles, located just behind your molars and below the cheekbones, are a great place to start. Regular circular motion against this muscle can help warm the muscles and improve lymphatic function. After making this move for a short time, move down to the mandible muscle, just along the jawline. With your index fingers, apply gentle pressure against the muscle.
Stretches are another way to work the muscles. For the first stretch, place both fists against your temporal muscles right by your ears and gently push your fists to the top of your head. Do this a few times before moving to the next stress. The next stretch takes your fists again but starts at your chin and pushes against the jawbone and cheeks, moving up toward the ears, gently stretching the muscles. One other stretch takes your fingertips and drags them from your jawbone down your neck.
4. Cooling and warming
Applying an ice pack or a warm compress at 10-minute intervals can help relax the muscles and reduce swelling in the jaw that might be contributing to your pain.
5. Keep your chewing to a minimum
Eating foods that require a lot of chewing can stress your jaw, which can lead to additional jaw pain. Minimizing food, such as chewing gum or beef jerky, that requires continual chewing can help relax your jaw and decrease your pain.
6. Reduce coffee/caffeine
While your morning cup of joe may help get your day started and that mid-afternoon energy drink may give you the boost you need, both of these drinks may actually contribute to your jaw pain. Unfortunately, caffeine can contribute to muscle tension, including the muscles in your jaw, and can increase the pain you experience.
Over-the-counter pain relievers can help you manage the pain caused by TMJ. In addition, your dentist may also prescribe muscle relaxers that can help reduce muscle tension in the jaw.
8. Reduce or stop teeth grinding and clenching
If you know you have a problem with teeth grinding at night or clenching your jaw during the day, you might want to talk with your dentist about the use of mouthguards. Not only will these minimize your jaw pain, but they may also help maintain the health of your teeth. While regular teeth grinding can contribute to TMJ, it can also wear down tooth enamel and lead to dental decay.
9. Professional treatment options
In addition to medications and mouthguards, your dentist or healthcare provider may also recommend additional TMJ treatment options, such as Botox injections to relax the muscles or occlusal splint therapy to help relax your jaw. In severe cases, your dentist may recommend oral surgical treatment options for TMJ.
Preventing jaw pain
If you have a history of TMJ or risk factors for TMJ, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of pain and keep your joints healthy. Stress can be a big factor in TMJ pain. Keeping your stress levels in check is an important step to pain management. Avoid foods that require chewing and performing the exercises mentioned above, even if you do not experience pain.
Let us help address your jaw pain.
You don’t have to live with TMJ jaw pain. The team at Soundview Family Dental is here to help. If you believe that your jaw pain may be related to TMJ, our dentist can evaluate your jaw and help determine which treatment options may benefit you most.
To learn more, contact us online or call the office today at (425) 563-6360 to schedule an appointment.