The correct medical term for the cardiac condition that we commonly recognize as heart attack is Myocardial Infarction and not cardiac arrest as many of us have known it. Now, before we attempt to illuminate the possibility of jaw pain being a symptom of a heart attack, one needs to understand what happens during a heart attack, as in the biological mechanics of myocardial infarction. What actually happens is that the blood supply to the heart suddenly stops, usually due to blockage in any coronary artery as a result of the rupturing of vulnerable plaques in the arterial walls.
The lipids (fat cells including cholesterol) and white blood cells that make up the vulnerable plaque are released inside the artery and they (especially the lipids) obstruct the flow of blood towards the heart. This causes the cells of the heart to start dying out due to the absence of fresh blood flow and this entire collective mechanism is what comprises the experience that is known as a heart attack.
Jaw Pain As a Sign of Heart Problems
Clinical studies and cardiac cases have proved beyond doubt that jaw pain and heart attacks do seem to be related, though not all jaw pains should be attributed to have stemmed from a cardiac disorder. Especially in case of women, chest pain and shortness of breath may not be as common a cue for the onset of a heart attack as a blunt pain and discomfort in the neck, shoulders, jaw, upper back, and abdomen, which may or may not be accompanied by shortness of breath and lightheadedness. When the cells of the heart do not get enough blood and, therefore, insufficient amounts of oxygen, the heart which is actually a muscle, contracts and experiences cramp like situations which causes the pain or tightness in and around the chest.
Now, since pain is nothing but a signal transmitted by the nerves to the brain informing it that something is not quite right, these signals are most prominently felt along the routes which go from the heart towards the brain. Also, some of these signals are scattered along the nerves surrounding the heart. This phenomenon is what we feel in the form of radiating pain. The pain that is felt in the lower jaw, teeth, left shoulder, and left arm is actually the pain as a result of this adverse cardiac condition which radiates to regions of the body that are nearest to the heart or fall in the way between the heart and the brain.
However, jaw pain can be suspected as a sign of a heart attack only when it is accompanied by a few of the other heart attack symptoms such as tightness in chest, shortness of breath, sharp pain in the chest, excessive sweating, left arm, and shoulder pain, pain in teeth of lower jaw, neck pain, etc. Also, in case of a heart attack, the jaw pain is usually on one side, the same as in case of heart attack related arm, neck, and shoulder pain. As an isolated instance of pain, the jaw itself cannot be considered as the symptom of an attack as the most probable causes of isolated jaw pain are temporomandibular jaw disorders, arthritis, tooth extraction, jaw or facial injury, tetanus infection, cavities, migraine, and shingles.
One is also likely to experience jaw pain, if he/she has the habit of grinding the teeth or clenching the jaws when facing a stressful situation. Jaw pain could be a sign, if a couple of the other heart attack symptoms also accompany it. In any case, it is better to consult with the concerned doctor, if one has a family history of cardiac diseases, or if is one is affected by any heart-related disorder - the risk is just not worth it if there are chances that you are vulnerable, either in terms of heredity or in terms of diet or lifestyle.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.