Considering the fact that there are many different things that can cause jaw pain, it’s not surprising that many people suffer from it. In many cases, the most common reason why someone might suffer from jaw pain is due to a condition known as TMD (Temporal Mandibular Joint Disorder) – the name that is given to several jaw-related problems associated with movement and pain located in or around the joints of the jaw. These types of jaw-related problems are also sometimes referred to as “TM” or “TMJ.”
As mentioned, TMD or TMJ is a jaw related condition that causes pain. While the pain is often felt in the jaw, it can also cause something known as referred pain – causing it to be felt in other areas of the head or neck, and may even cause things like headaches, neck pain, and even toothaches. As a result, this is a condition that is very commonly seen in the field of dentistry. For example, when a patient goes to their dentist complaining of a toothache, the first thought that will usually come to mind is that they either have a cavity, which would require a filling, or could potentially have a chipped/cracked tooth, which could require root canal treatment. In order to determine the cause of the patient’s toothache, x-rays will be taken and tests performed (such as applying cold to the area that is painful to gauge the reaction from the tooth, as well as tapping on the tooth.) If the problem is with the tooth itself, this will usually be evident on the x-rays. However, in cases where the x-ray shows no signs of a cavity or any other tooth-related concerns, and if the tooth responds normally to the tests that are performed, then it’s not uncommon for the culprit of the pain that the patient is experiencing to be related to the temporal mandibular joint. This is, in most cases, due to something known as bruxism (more commonly known as clenching or grinding of the teeth.) In some cases, the patient may not even be consciously aware that they are grinding their teeth.
As for what causes teeth grinding to occur, there are several different factors that can play a contributing role, though the most commonly seen reason is stress. Stress can play a significant factor in many different aspects of our health, including contribute to jaw pain due to teeth grinding or clenching of the jaw. To prevent this from occurring, it’s important that you’re able to identify what your stress triggers are and find ways to avoid them and/or find different mechanisms so that you are better able to cope with said stress. For some, this may mean meditation, while for others it could mean going for a walk or finding a fun hoppy to occupy their time with. (Aside from stress, other factors that can contribute to jaw pain include being involved in motor vehicle accidents, as well as certain health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, which can affect the muscles and joints – and, in rare cases, even osteoarthritis. It’s also possible to develop jaw pain or “lockjaw” as a result of developing tetanus – a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and can contribute to painful muscle contractions of the jaw and neck along with other symptoms, and can even be life-threatening.)
Because jaw clenching and teeth grinding can eventually cause the teeth to become worn down (which can ultimately lead to problems with the teeth), your dentist will usually suggest you have a nightguard made. This will help to relieve the pressure on the teeth and jaw if you are grinding or clenching. In most cases, it’s recommended that a nightguard be worn when you go to sleep (as clenching and grinding typically occurs the most during sleep hours), but you can also wear it during the daytime or whenever you’re experiencing pain. There are also different jaw exercises you can do to try and relieve pain associated with clenching, such as stretching of the jaw joint, manual jaw-opening exercises, and smile stretching. These types of exercises will help loosen up the muscles and eliminate the pain you’re experiencing. Patients may also find temporary relief from use of NSAIDs like Ibuprofen or Naproxen, or by applying heat to help increase blood flow and relax the jaw muscles.