What is jaw pain?

Brooke
woman holding her hand to her jaw with a look of pain on her face

Jaw pain is one of the most common causes of orofacial pain, and a frequent condition that we see here at Star Osteo and Wellness. Although the majority of the population (85-95%) will exhibit at least one sign or symptom of jaw pain in their lifetime, 20-30% are currently experiencing a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder (Easterbrook, Keys, Talsma, & Pierce-Talsma, 2019).

Our Star Practitioners can help you recover from your jaw pain by performing:

  • Visual and physical assessments of your jaw, neck and movement patterns to identify causative factors
  • Soft tissue therapy to relieve any muscular tension, stress or spasm
  • Articulation to reduce pain and stiffness whilst improving your mobility
  • Advanced Dry Needling for pain relief and to minimise muscular tension through elimination of trigger points
  • Generalised advice surrounding potential causative factors including breathing, sleep and stress
  • Prescription of strengthening, stretching and mobility exercises to improve strength and movement whilst preventing recurrences 

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF JAW PAIN?

TMJ DISORDERS

The TMJ is a complex structure that connects the jawbone to the skull, with surrounding teeth and soft tissue elements included. Collectively, it aims to navigate movements necessary for life including chewing, grinding and opening and closing the mouth. However, when dysfunctional, this region can provide an array of signs and symptoms that may include:

  • Clicking, popping and/or grating sounds (coming from the jaw)
  • Muscular pain around the cheeks and temples
  • Surrounding muscular pain (neck, upper back)
  • Specific joint pain
  • Headaches
Tension Headache

Tension-type headaches are associated with mild to moderate pain that simulates a tight band around the head. The diffuse pain occurs on both sides of the forehead and temple area, and episodes can last between 30 minutes and for up to 7 days. Muscular tension can often come from areas other than the exhibited headache, including from the jaw, neck and shoulders. Other signs and symptoms (or lack of) that may indicate this type of headache include:

  • Photophobia (sensitivity and pain with exposure to light)
  • Phonophobia (sensitivity and pain with exposure to loud noises)
  • No nausea or vomiting
  • No aggravation by physical activity

(Castien, van der Windt, Grooten, & Dekker, 2011)

(Fernández-de-las-Peñas et al., 2006)

Cluster Headache

A cluster headache is an excruciating, strictly one-sided headache that generally occurs around or behind the eye (periorbital). Attacks can occur sporadically from every few days up to 8 times per day. Each incident may last between 15-180 minutes. Pain can radiate to areas other than the eye including along the forehead, into the jaw, along the gum line, into the ear, neck or shoulder. More specific signs that may occur along with this severe headache include:

  • Tearing
  • Sweating
  • Miosis (constriction/minimising of the pupil)
  • Ptosis (drooping of the upper eyelid)
  • Rhinorrhea (runny nose)
  • Eyelid oedema (puffy/swollen eyelids)

(May et al., 2018)

Sinus Problems

Sinusitis, or a sinus infection occurs when your nasal passages become infected, swollen and inflamed. Generalised signs and symptoms that accompany this condition may include:

  • Pain
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headaches
  • Throat irritation and/or cough
  • Sore throat and/or hoarse voice

The relentless swelling and pressure within the sinuses can give rise to pain and headaches around the jaw and cheek areas. These characteristics are often worse in the morning due to the build up of fluid overnight, as well as with any sudden change in barometric pressure.

(Marcin, 2020)

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a type of chronic pain that affects one of the most widely distributed nerves in the head (trigeminal nerve), but on one side of the face only. There are two forms of this disorder: the classic type (type one) and the atypical form (type two). The difference between the two types is the frequency, intensity and type of pain (see below):

  • Classic type involves extreme, sporadic burning or shock-like facial pain that lasts between a few seconds and a few minutes per episode
  • Atypical type involves a constant aching, burning and/or stabbing pain of a lower intensity 

The association with jaw pain is linked with the location of the nerve and aggravating factors of the condition. The nerve supplies the oral cavity, and also stimulates the cheeks, upper and lower jaw, lips, teeth and gums. Additionally, movements of the jaw and light touch can trigger this chronic condition.
(Nguyen, 2020)

Tooth Pain

Toothaches and jaw pain are two symptoms that often accompany each other. More often than not, these can be explained by infections, cavities, dental abscesses or gingivitis which all have the ability to refer pain to the jaw area. Some differentiating signs and symptoms that may lead to this diagnosis are as follows:

  • Pain with chewing
  • Hot or cold sensitivity
  • Bleeding or discharge (around a tooth or gums)
  • Swelling around a tooth or jaw
  • Injury or trauma to the area

(Lomas, 2018)

Heart Attack

In Australia, one patient is admitted to hospital with a heart attack every nine minutes. Although chest pain is the most common symptom, it can spread to your arms, neck, jaw and/or upper back. Therefore, awareness is paramount. Additional signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for include:

  • Dizziness and/or light-headedness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue 

(Heart Foundation, 2020)

REFERENCES

Castien, R. F., van der Windt, D. A., Grooten, A., & Dekker, J. (2011). Effectiveness of manual therapy for chronic tension-type headache: a pragmatic, randomised, clinical trial. Cephalalgia, 31(2), 133-143.

Easterbrook, S., Keys, J., Talsma, J., & Pierce-Talsma, S. (2019). Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment for Temporomandibular Disorders. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 119(6), e29.

Fernández-de-las-Peñas, C., Alonso-Blanco, C., Cuadrado, M. L., Miangolarra, J. C., Barriga, F. J., & Pareja, J. A. (2006). Are manual therapies effective in reducing pain from tension-type headache?: a systematic review. The Clinical journal of pain, 22(3), 278-285.

Heart Foundation, 2020: What is a Heart Attack? Heart Foundation, Retrieved
  from: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/conditions/heart-attack

Lomas, J. (2018). Temporomandibular dysfunction. Australian Journal of General Practice, 47(4), 212.

May, A., Schwedt, T. J., Magis, D., Pozo-Rosich, P., Evers, S., & Wang, S.-J. (2018). Cluster headache. Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 4(1), 1-17. 

Marcin, J. (2020). Sinus infection symptoms. Retrieved from:
  https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-flu/sinus-infection-symptoms

Nguyen, K. (2020). Trigeminal Neuralgia Chronic Pain Management in General and Hospital Practice (pp. 323-340): Springer.