Jaw Pain: Symptoms & Signs
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler’s educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
The jaw joint, medically referred to as the temporomandibular joint or TMJ, is made up of the bone below the mouth (the mandible, commonly referred to as the jawbone) and the bone just above the mouth (the maxilla). The TMJ allows the upper jaw to close on the lower jaw and is one of the most frequently used joints of the body.
The temporomandibular joints are complex structures containing muscles, tendons, and bones. Injury to or disorders of these structures can all result in pain in the jaw area. Jaw pain may occur on one side or on both sides, depending upon the cause. Jaw pain can result from trauma to the jawbone, including fractures and dislocations. Also depending upon the exact cause, the pain may occur when chewing or may occur at rest. Additionally, other medical conditions not related to the TMJ may cause perceived pain in the jaw area. One of the most characteristic of these is the pain associated with coronary artery disease (angina) or heart attack, which typically occurs in the chest but can radiate (spread) to the jaw area. Some kinds of arthritis, often osteoarthritis, can affect the TMJ and lead to pain when moving the joint. Relaxation and softening of the joints during pregnancy due to secretion of the relaxin hormone can aggravate jaw pain in pregnancy. Less common causes of jaw pain include tumors, cysts, and infection of bone (osteomyelitis). Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition of the nervous system that causes extreme facial pain that sometimes involves the jaw area. Jaw pain can be associated with other symptoms, including
- a “popping” sensation,
- tooth pain,
- difficulty chewing,
- tenderness and aching of other areas of the face or neck.
Related Symptoms & Signs
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Health concerns on your mind?
Click here to visit our Symptom Checker.
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Ear Infection Quiz: Test Your Medical IQ
Is it possible to prevent ear infections? Take the Ear Infection (Otitis Media) Quiz to learn the risks, causes, symptoms and.