Why Does My Jaw And Tooth Hurt?

woman outside in pain holding face

Most people are familiar with conditions like “TMJ” disorder (temporomandibular joint disorder) when it comes to jaw and tooth pain. But did you know there are other common causes of TMJ pain other than a joint problem?

If you’re experiencing jaw and tooth pain on a frequent basis, there could be a number of different reasons why. Understanding the signs and symptoms can help you discern what’s serious and whether to go to your regular medical provider or your dental professional for treatment.

Should I Be Concerned

Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. If our muscles or joints get overused, pain tells us to rest and slow down while they recover. But random, sharp, or dull pain that prevents us from performing everyday activities is another matter. When it comes to tooth and jaw pain, that might mean being unable to eat, talk, or even go to work.

If you’re experiencing jaw and teeth pain on the right side or left side, it could mean there’s an imbalanced bite or you’re clenching your teeth while you sleep. But is it something more serious, like the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke? Not usually. Although pain can indicate nerve damage or infections, it’s usually more bothersome than it is life-threatening. But if it interferes with your everyday life, the jaw pain can be just as serious.

The best place to get answers to your jaw pain questions is your dentist’s office. Dental professionals are experts when it comes to everything about your oral anatomy. That includes your tissues around your teeth like your bone, lips, and even your TMJ.

What Could It Be? Common Causes

Depending on your jaw and tooth pain symptoms, you can usually narrow down your condition to a few different potential causes before seeing your doctor or dentist. Here are the most common reasons why you could be experiencing jaw pain:

1) TMJ Disorders

Temporomandibular joint disorder “TMJD” is when the joint on either side of your jaw – just in front of your ear – isn’t functioning properly.[1]

Symptoms

TMJ disorder can cause pain, clicking/popping when you open and close your mouth, limited range of motion, jaw pain, headaches, and earaches. Your teeth can even hurt or feel sore if you’re clenching and grinding (which in turn can cause TMJ pain.)

Treatment

Depending on the cause of your TMJ disorder, treatments range from orthodontic therapy and injectables like Botox to bite splints and physical therapy.

2) Sinusitis

Did you know that having sinus infections, inflammation, or even allergy symptoms can lead to tooth pain? Upper teeth have long roots that lay adjacent to your sinus linings. If your sinuses are inflamed for whatever reason, it can push against your tooth roots and cause teeth pain.

Symptoms

Sinus-induced toothaches feel like typical tooth pain. Usually, it’s a throbbing sensation that comes and goes. It might also be accompanied by headaches, nasal drainage, and other allergy symptoms like a sore throat or itchy eyes.[2] You might feel more pressure when you rock your head back and forth or up and down.

Treatment

Tanking a nasal decongestant, anti-histamine, antibiotic (for sinus infections) or other treatment for sinusitis can help relieve your tooth pain.

3) Ear Infection 

Since your ears and so closely positioned to the TMJ joint, jaw pain can mimic ear infections.

Symptoms

Sharp or dull achiness within one or both ears that comes and goes.

Treatment

This one can be tricky. Depending on whether it’s an actual ear infection or caused by clenching/TMJ disorder, you may need to consult with your dentist, oral surgeon, or even an ENT to determine the true cause and best method of treatment.[3]

4) Dental Problems 

One of the first conclusions people jump to if they have sore teeth and tooth pain is dental problems. And for good reason!

Symptoms

Tooth sensitivity, pain when eating, sore or bleeding gums, sore teeth, or visible abscesses are just a few signs of infected teeth.

Treatment

Dental treatment for teeth pain can range from deep cleanings to root canal therapy. This is one of those instances where you need to see your dentist for a personalized care approach.

Uncommon Causes

There are some lesser-known causes of jaw and tooth pain out there. Since they’re not as common, most people don’t realize what’s going on until they’ve already spoken with a couple of different doctors or dentists. Especially if it’s just jaw and teeth pain on the right side/left side instead of both. If you’re positive it’s not from a physical injury or your sleeping position, ask your dentist about ruling out these other common conditions:

1) Trigeminal Neuralgia

Neuralgia is a condition of the nerve where it can cause severe pain and not function properly. In the case of your trigeminal nerve – which runs down the side of either jaw – neuralgia can lead to pain in your face.

Symptoms

Typically, trigeminal neuralgia causes sensations of burning, twitching, pain, or sharp jolts through one side of your face.

2) Osteomyelitis 

In this case, the jaw or tooth pain originates inside of your bone due to an infection.

Symptoms

If you recently had any sort of surgery on that side of your mouth or face, and a bacterial infection developed as a result, there’s a rare chance that the bone inside of your jaw could become infected.[4]

3) Tumors And Cysts 

An active tumor or cyst can lead to pain on one side of your jaw or mouth. Depending on where it’s located, most oral growths such as tumors are visible on dental “panoramic” X-rays.

Symptoms

Growths such as tumors and cysts can push outward on the tissues around them or cause them to deteriorate altogether. You can experience symptoms of pain, loose teeth, sore jaws, headaches, facial swelling, or a limited range of motion. But unfortunately, they can also be asymptomatic (no symptoms whatsoever) until the growth is severe.

When To See A Doctor

Orofacial (that’s the word to describe the area of your face that’s around and connects to your mouth) pain can come from a number of different causes. Although most people are inclined to see their MD about it, your dentist’s office may be the best place to start. As orofacial experts, your dental team can help to rule out and pinpoint the diagnosis of your jaw and tooth pain even if it’s not a traditional dental problem.

If for any reason your dentist doesn’t observe atypical issues with your TMJ or growths on your X-rays, they may decide to send you to an oral surgeon, neurologist, or MD for further consultation and testing.

Usually pain that’s associated with your teeth or jaws will need to be assessed and treated by an orofacial expert, so start with an exam at your dentist’s office first. They’ll let you know if it’s something basic or if a consultation with an oral surgeon (who may even be a dentist and medical doctor combined!) is the next best step.

Pain Relief At Home

When you finally have an idea as to what’s causing your teeth or jaw pain, you can take effective measures to treat it at home. For example, if you’re clenching and grinding your teeth, wearing a nightguard or bite splint can prevent the jaw pain and earaches that accompany bruxism. A warm compress, massage, and over-the-counter pain reliever can help, too! Rest and a soft diet can also help with symptoms.

Sinus infection or allergies? Try treating those first to see if your tooth pain improves. If it does, you’ll be able to avoid future flare-ups by discussing sinusitis problems with your doctor.

Since most symptoms of pain are caused by inflammation, taking anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Motrin) can help. But if you’re to the point where you’re relying on medication all day to keep pain away, you need to talk to a medical or dental provider.

Overcoming Jaw And Tooth Pain

If you have tooth and jaw pain on your right side/left side, it could be related to a rare nervous disorder or bone infection. But in most cases, jaw and tooth pain is linked with something like clenching your teeth, sinus infections, TMJ disorder, or dental problems.

Regular checkups with your dentist are the best way to stay ahead of teeth pain and prevent it from getting worse. But if symptoms don’t improve, your dentist may want you to see a specialist such as an oral surgeon for further testing and diagnosis.