When you experience jaw pain on one side, it can be severely debilitating. The pain can be so strong that it will prevent you from doing simple things such as eating or talking to people. The causes that trigger the jaw pain on one side are diverse. They can be classified into two categories: primary and secondary. The primary causes are the ones affecting the area directly. On the other hand, the secondary causes refer to a medical condition that comes from other part of the body and affects the jaw indirectly.
In general, most of the jaw pains are caused by injury or dental problems. The secondary causes need to be diagnosed by a specialist.
The most common cause that are responsible for the jaw pain is temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). 12% of the planet’s population is affected by TMJ. However, just 5% will talk to a specialist and ask for help. Women of childbearing age are most commonly affected by TMJ.
TMJ collectively describes disorders of the temporomandibular joints, and the muscles responsible for jaw movement. These muscles are known as the masticatory muscles.
The most common causes for jaw pain on one side are the following:
- Teeth grinding, clenching, or opening the mouth too wide: Most often, teeth grinding and clenching is experienced during sleep. This behavior can lead to tooth damage and jaw pain. This behavior can appear whenever you feel an increased emotional stress.
- Osteomyelitis – appears as a consequence of an infection in the body. It affects the bones and associated tissues.
- Arthritis – several conditions such as osteoarthritis and osteoarthrosis can lead to the surface of bones wearing away.
- Synovitis or capsulitis: These are conditions in which the lining of the joint or a connecting ligament becomes inflamed.
- Dental conditions – gum disease, cavities, tooth gaps, damaged teeth, or abscesses.
- Sinus problems
- Tension type headaches – typically caused by stress and may lead to facial pain.
- Neuropathic pain: It is a long-term pain that occurs when nerves become damaged and send pain signals to the brain. This pain can be continuous or occur from time to time.
- Vascular pain – occurs when the supply of blood to part of the body is disrupted. It is caused by conditions that include giant cell arteritis and carotid artery dissection.
- Neurovascular pain is caused by conditions that affect both the nerves and the blood vessels, such as migraine and cluster headaches.
The jaw pain can also appear due to lifestyle-related factors, including emotional stress, sleep disturbances, a lack of certain nutrients, or tiredness.
There can be also other conditions that can cause the jaw pain. These are the following: rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and some mental health conditions.
- facial pain that worsens when the jaw is used
- joint and muscle tenderness
- limited range of motion
- jaw alignment issues
- clicking or popping sounds with opening or closing of the jaw
- ringing in the ears
- headaches with or without ear pain and pressure behind the eyes
- jaw locking
- dull aching to sharp stabbing pain
- becoming overly sensitive to pain
- tension headaches
- nerve-type pain, such as burning
- facial swelling
Whenever you feel that you have any of the above symptoms, it is very important to seek for medical help. Dentists, oral surgeons, and doctors are able to evaluate jaw pain.
The jaw pain on one side can also have complications. They include:
- dental complications
- surgical complications
- chronic pain
- emotional distress
- changes in eating habits
Certain tests need to be performed in order to diagnose the jaw pain. For example, your doctor will do the following procedures:
- physical exam, including assessment of the nerves, neck bones, jaw, mouth, and muscles
- complete medical and pain history
- certain laboratory tests, such as an erythrocyte sedimentation rate blood test, used in the diagnosis of conditions involving pain
- certain radiology imaging procedures, such as X-ray or MRI
- psychological and psychiatric screening
In case your clinician suspects that the above tests did not offer him a clear conclusion, he might ask for other tests.
- antibiotics if the jaw pain is caused by an infection
- surgery to remove damaged bone, treat an affected nerve, or to diagnose the problem
- use of a mouth protector, such as a mouth guard
- physical therapy
- muscle relaxants or tranquilizers to aid in relaxing the affected muscles
- antidepressants, which can sometimes help treat painful conditions
- topical capsaicin, which is helpful in treating some nerve-related conditions
- steroid injections to decrease inflammation or swelling
- antiviral therapy to treat viral infections, such as herpes zoster
- pain medication
- oxygen therapy and some prescription medications to treat cluster headaches
- certain blood pressure medications when migraines are being treated
- root canal treatment, a procedure to treat infections within teeth
- tooth extraction if the cause is from an abnormal or infected tooth
- vapo-coolant spray to relieve painful areas of muscle, called trigger points
- injections with local anesthetics
- stretching to stretch and sooth the affected muscles
- relaxation therapy
- soft diet to avoid excessive jaw movement and crunching
- moist heat application or cold therapy
- massage or acupuncture
- use of correct posture to avoid neck and back strain
When you want to prevent a disease, it is vital to know its causes. Some of the prevention methods for jaw pain include:
- avoiding crunchy foods, gum, chewing fingernails, or other hard objects
- eating soft or liquid foods, such as soup or pasta
- taking smaller bites of food
- avoiding caffeine
- trying massage, meditation, and aerobic exercise
- taking calcium and magnesium supplements, if appropriate
- avoiding yawning
- sleeping on the back or side, avoiding stomach sleeping
- avoiding grinding teeth
- avoiding carrying bags on the shoulders for too long, switching shoulders frequently
- using correct posture
- seeking regular dental care
You should talk to your doctor whenever you have one of the following symptoms:
- failure of home remedies to treat jaw pain
- jaw pain that interferes with a daily routine
- irregular jaw motion
- jaw joints making sounds when moving
- neck or upper back pain
- eye pain
- ringing in the ear
- dental problems, such as broken or worn teeth.