Is Jaw Pain Tooth Related?

Pain from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder can be severe and quite debilitating. Because of the location, TMJ pain is often mistaken for dental pain. This article will focus on the key differences between a toothache and TMJ disorder.


TMJ disorder impacts the temporomandibular joint. This join connects both sides of the jawbone and the skull and is responsible for the opening and closing of the mouth. TMJ disorder is a result of the joint becoming irritated and inflamed. The cause of TMJ can vary and may be triggered by arthritis for one patient and grinding of the teeth for another patient.


Symptoms of TMJ may be mild or severe. The most common symptoms include jaw pain, an aching pain near the ears, and discomfort while eating. Severe cases of TMJ can result in locking of the jaw, making it difficult to open and close the mouth.


TMJ and Tooth Pain

Because the temporomandibular joint is located close to many muscles, nerves, and ligaments, the pain is often felt in other areas of the neck, face, and head. This pain is called referred pain. In some cases, the pain is so severe that patients are unaware it is even from the TMJ. Pain which radiates upward, often presents itself in the head, ears, and eyes. Pain which radiates downward, can result in pain near the teeth.


TMJ pain can vary and may feel dull, sharp, searing, sporadic, or constant. Toothaches often result in similar types of pain, which may make patients think they are suffering from a toothache rather than TMJ disorder. In addition, TMJ irritated certain trigger points, causing tooth pain. Trigger points form as a result of the muscle contracting and becoming stiff. Because less oxygenated blood is able to reach the area, and toxins are trapped, it often results in tenderness.


TMJ pain is often mistake for a toothache, however, there is a deeper connection with TMJ. Patients who have undergone numerous dental procedures, often that that their bite is affected. A modified bite can place extra pressure and strain on the jaw. This can result in inflammation and irritation of the jaw joint. When bite issues remain untreated, it can result in long-term TMJ pain.


Severe toothaches in the upper molars has the potential to refer pain to another area of the face. This includes the jaw joint and can feel similar to TMJ pain. Once the toothache is treated, however, it should take care of the TMJ pain. In some cases, this pain causes patients to grind their teeth or clench their jaw, resulting in a sore TMJ.


TMJ Pain Verses a Toothache

It can be difficult to differentiate between TMJ pain and a toothache. A good place to start is to follow up with a dentist to determine if any cavities, chips, or cracks are causing the pain. Patients with a tooth infection or abscess may notice pus, a foul odor, and bitter taste in the mouth.


In cases where one or more teeth are suddenly sensitive to heat, cold, or sugar, this suggests the presence of a cavity. Patients can also rest their face and massage the temporomandibular joint. If this helps to resolve the pain, it is likely TMJ pain. Pain from TMJ can cause pain throughout the entire face and impact the teeth, making it challenging to identify the cause.


It is best to follow up with a dentist for a thorough examination to determine the cause any mouth and jaw pain. The dentist can also aid in developing a proper treatment plan.

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