Lower Jaw Pain

By dentist Dr. Richard Mitchell

Lower jaw pain can be very confusing and worrying. There are a LOT of different structures and tissues around the lower jaw. There's a lot that can go wrong. And because the area around the lower jaw is SO complicated, it can be hard to work out what's going on.

When you have a lower jaw pain, the first thing to look at is exactly WHERE the pain is coming from.

If you can narrow down the source of the pain, then you can make some educated guesses at what's going on. Here are some things to look for;

  • The pain is coming from the front half of your lower jaw. The most common cause will be to do with a tooth. You will either have pulpitis in a tooth, a dental abscess, or a tooth extraction infection. If you have pulpitis in a tooth, you will need to see a dentist for treatment. For a tooth with an abscess or a tooth extraction infection, you will need antibiotics.
  • If your lower jaw pain is coming from the rear half of your jaw, then you need to try to work out if the pain is coming from higher up, near your jaw joint or ear, OR whether it's coming from lower down, below your ear. If it's higher up, and there is NO SWELLING, then there's a good chance that you have Jaw Joint Pain. If you are also getting headaches, also take a look at Migraine Help.
  • BUT if your pain is coming from lower down, under your ear, then there are more possibilities;

You may well have a wisdom tooth buried under the gum, pressing against the other teeth and the bone around it. If you can feel or see some part of the wisdom tooth poking through the gum, then you may have a pericoronitis. Also take a look at Symptoms of wisdom teeth.

  • If the pain is on the side of your lower jaw, and you have a slight swelling that is bone-hard, this might be worrying. We all worry that a vague pain or swelling without any obvious cause might be cancer. You can find out more about this by going to my page Jaw Bone Cancer and reading some more detailed information about what to look for and what you should do.
  • If you have a small swelling under your lower jaw, you should look at Swollen gland under jaw for more information about the possible causes.
lower jaw pain - pain in the lower jawlower jaw pain

Lower Jaw Pain

WHAT OTHER causes are there of lower jaw pain?

The main ones are listed above, and can be summed up as either due to infection (tooth abscess, infection after extraction), irritation or inflammation (wisdom tooth coming through, TMJ / jaw joint pain), or possibly a tumor of some sort.

The remaining possibilities are a mixed bunch, and usually you'll know what's happening or what has happened recently to cause the pain!

Tooth pain after getting a crown. This can feel like a pain in the jaw, especially if the crown (or "cap") is a little too big. Read more about this at Tooth Pain After Crown.

Tooth Pain after filling a tooth. You can get a pain in your tooth or jaw after having a new filling in a tooth. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the pain is coming from the jaw or from the tooth. The clue is that you've just had a filling done, so that's the most likely cause. There's more detail at Tooth Pain After Filling.

Denture pain. If you have a denture in your lower jaw, it can cause pain in 2 ways; First, if your lower jaw has shrunk down quite a bit, the denture may be pressing on a nerve that sits under the gum, about halfway along the jawbone.

Also, it's possible that your jaw has shrunk down or changed shape since the denture was constructed, resulting in the edge of the denture digging into the gum somewhere and causing pain. For both of these problems you need to see a dentist to get the denture adjusted. Read more at Denture Pain.

Root canal. If you've had a root canal treatment, there are a number of things that can cause pain in your jaw afterwards. Take a look at Pain After Root Canal

Lyme Disease. This is an odd one. If you've been bitten by a tick carrying the Lyme bacteria, you are likely to develop Lyme Disease. This can cause odd and vague pain in the jaws - normally the UPPER jaw, but sometimes anywhere in the jaws! Read more at Symptoms of Lyme Disease.

Trauma. This can cause lower jaw pain in several ways:

FIRST, if you get a knock or a blow to your lower jaw, it's likely to react in the same way as if you hit your thumb with a hammer; it will swell up, go red and be painful! And it will probably bruise afterwards. The CAUSE of this pain will be obvious, and the simplest thing you can do is put a cold pack on the area, and take some anti-inflammatories.

SECOND, if the blow is severe enough (say in a car crash), you could get a broken jaw. But sometimes you don't realise, because it's a small fracture, or the two sides of the fracture haven't moved apart much.The big clue here is when you try to bring your teeth together. If you DO have a broken jaw, there's a good chance that your top teeth and bottom teeth will not fit together properly. Of course, your jaw will be bruised and things will feel very odd, but if your jaw is NOT broken then you should be able to get your teeth fitting together.

THIRD, if you have a severe jaw fracture that results in the ends of the fractured bone sticking through the skin (ie. puncture wound) then infection inside the bone is a real problem after you've had hospital treatment to re-set your jaw. The big worry is osteomyelitis. I discuss this more at Jaw Bone Pain.

As always, my guide to lower jaw pain cannot be exhaustive. I have included the main causes of pain in the lower jaw. OBVIOUSLY in most cases you need to get yourself along to a dentist, or in the case of a suspected jaw fracture to the nearest ER department.

As ever, the SOONER you get treatment, the quicker and simpler it will be. Delaying treatment will almost ALWAYS make things more difficult, more painful, and possibly result in a poorer long-term outcome. DON'T DELAY!

Page written by dentist Dr. Richard Mitchell  LinkedIn Profile

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