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Jaw Pain on One Side

Jaw Pain on One Side

Jaw pain is a classic symptom that can be associated with many diseases and disorders, which may or may not involve the jaw.
Sonia Nair
Last Updated: May 14, 2018
Pain in jawbones could be an indication that there is some problem with the jaw. The causes of such pain are not limited to conditions involving the jaw. A person with sinus infection or migraine may also experience jaw pain. Did you know that jaw pain could be an indication of a heart attack? So the causes of jaw pain could be minor, serious or even life-threatening.

As per the underlying cause, jaw pain is classified as primary or secondary. Primary jaw pain constitutes the pain caused by any medical condition that involves the jaw, whereas secondary pain arises due to problems in any body part, other than the jaw. According to the underlying cause, the location of the pain may also vary. Such pain may develop on both sides or could be one-sided.

What are the Causes
Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction: A common cause of jaw pain on one side is temporomandibular joint disorder or dysfunction (TMJ/TMD) that affects the temporomandibular joint (jaw joint). In this case, the jaw joints cannot open or close properly. This condition is commonly caused by continuous grinding or clenching of teeth. Regular nail-biting may also cause this problem.

How to Identify?
  • Jaw pain, which radiates to areas around the ear, cheek bone or neck
  • Popping/clicking/cracking sounds from the jaw joints
  • Difficulty in opening the mouth
  • Headaches, nausea and dizziness
Treatment for temporomandibular joint disorder is decided according to the cause and severity of the condition. Usually, TMJ is treated with pain killers, anti-inflammatory medication, steroids and muscle relaxants. Jaw exercises, relaxation therapies and use of mouth splints or mouth guards are also found to relieve the condition. In some serious cases, surgery may also be required.

Trauma to the Jaw: Any type of trauma to the jaw may cause pain on one side of the jaw, if the injury is on that side. These types of injuries are often seen in motor vehicle accidents and contact sports. This is among the most common causes of primary jaw pain.
How to Identify? The symptoms are jaw pain and difficulty in opening and closing the mouth. Swelling, bruising, tenderness and bleeding may also occur. Missing or misaligned teeth are also not uncommon. If the nerves in the area get affected, numbness and tingling (in and around the mouth and chin) may also develop.

The broken jaw is realigned or repaired using different techniques. Sometimes surgery may be required to fix the affected jaw. Pain killers and antibiotics are also prescribed. Application of ice may prove beneficial to reduce the discomfort, pain and swelling.

Bruxism: This is a condition that is characterized by continuous clenching and grinding of teeth, during sleep. Usually, bruxism is detected when the affected person develop symptoms, like jaw pain or jaw disorders.
How to Identify? The most common symptoms of bruxism are damage to teeth, jaw pain and earache. The person may have headaches and facial pain too. In some cases, insomnia, depression and anxiety are also reported.

Treatment is not required for mild cases of bruxism. It has been observed that kids outgrow this condition and treatment may not be required. However, some people require treatment, for rectifying the underlying cause. While splints and mouth guards are sufficient for some, others require medication like antidepressants and muscle relaxants too. In some cases, behavior therapy is also recommended.

Jaw Arthritis: Arthritis can also affect the jaw joints (temporomandibular joint) and cause pain. It could be rheumatoid arthritis, infectious (septic) arthritis or osteoarthritis. Arthritis of the jaw is usually associated with aging, trauma, repetitive use of the joints, etc.
How to Identify? As there are different types of arthritis that can affect the jaw joints, the symptoms may vary slightly. However, the common symptoms are jaw pain on one side or both sides, difficulty in moving the jaws, swollen jaw, etc.

Medication, like muscle relaxants and pain relievers are used for relieving the symptoms. While splints can be of much help in some people, physical therapy is suggested for others. Surgery is also recommended in some severe cases.

Heart Attack: Jaw pain on left side (especially the lower jaw) could be a symptom of heart attack. The pain may wax and wane over a few minutes and it will be difficult to pinpoint the exact location.
How to Identify? Jaw pain caused by a heart attack is often experienced in the morning and it worsens with exertion. Usually, such jaw pain will be accompanied with symptoms like shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, chest pain and pain in the left arm and shoulder. Some people may experience dizziness and nausea too.

Dental Problems: Dental problems are also among the leading causes of jaw pain and discomfort in the mouth. These include tooth cavities, broken teeth and teeth that are pulled out of alignment. Another dental problem that can cause such pain is oral surgery and fillings in teeth. Severe gum infections and gingivitis may also cause a sore jaw on one side. A deep-seated wisdom teeth may sometimes cause pain in the jaw.

Bony Growths: Bony growths or bone spurs around the temporomandibular joint or the jawbone, can cause pain in the jaw while opening the mouth. This condition may develop during old age due to wear and tear of the jaw joint or due to new bony growths.
Other Causes
  • Abscess, infection, cysts or tumors in the jaw
  • Sinus infection, Migraine, Tetanus, Lyme disease
  • Cancers of the head and neck
  • Osteomyelitis, Actinomycosis (a fungal infection)
  • Phossy jaw due to white phosphorus exposure
  • Osteonecrosis (dead bone) of the jaw
  • Trigeminal neuralgia (irritation of the fifth cranial nerve)
  • Inflammation of the parotid gland
The above said are some of the possible underlying causes for jaw pain on one side. It is also said that habits like nail biting and thumb sucking may cause harm to the jawbones, due to the pressure exerted on the jaw joints. The pain may be mild to severe, as per the underlying cause and its severity. It can be persistent or recurring. Some people experience pain, only when they move the jawbones for chewing, talking or yawning. For minor symptoms, wait for a few days, before consulting the doctor. Those with severe and additional symptoms must seek immediate medical attention. Treatment for jaw pain may also vary with the underlying cause and its severity.

While most complaints of primary jaw pain can be addressed by a dentist or an otolaryngologist, you may need other specialist doctors for secondary jaw pain. However, you may consult your family doctor or dentist and if required, he will refer you to other specialists for further investigation and treatment.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.