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Understanding Jaw Pain

Chronic and even occasional facial and jaw pain can be frustrating, especially if you aren’t sure what’s causing it. The jaw joint is one you use more often than many of the other joints in the body. It can affect eating, speaking and even breathing. In most cases, jaw pain is a sign of a dental problem, but in more extreme situations, it can signal a heart attack, especially in women.

Stress Can Cause Jaw Pain 

One of the most common causes of jaw pain that David Buck, DDS, of Balance Epigenetic Orthodontics in Lynnwood, Washington, sees in his practice is stress.

"Clenching the jaw or grinding the teeth are classic side effects of stress," he said. "Not only does this habit wear down teeth, but it also puts a lot of stress on the jaw joints and over time can lead to chronic pain of the jaw, face and ears."

If you think you may be grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw due to stress, the first step is to try to pinpoint what is causing stress in your life. If your stress triggers aren’t something you can control, see your dentist about a night guard to help protect your teeth and jaws, Buck said.

TMJ Disorders Major Cause of Jaw Pain

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is located on each side of the face. It can be felt by placing the hands on the face in front of each ear and opening and closing your mouth. This joint connects the jaw to the skull. It’s still relatively unknown what exactly causes TMJ disorders, but Buck believes a bad bite is to blame in most situations.

"Malocclusion, or a bad bite, occurs when the upper and lower teeth don’t meet in the correct position," he said. "This causes the muscles in the face to strain in order to perform correctly and can lead to pain of the jaw, face, ears, arm, shoulders and even back."

Buck specializes in treating patients suffering from jaw pain, especially from TMJ disorders, using a neuromuscular approach to dentistry. This means the ideal resting position of the jaw is determined and then a plan is put in place to reach that goal using a full-body approach.

Jaw Pain Could Signal Heart Attack 

When we think of a heart attack we often think of chest pain and shortness of breath. While those are some of the most common signs, it’s important to note that sometimes symptoms like sweating, nausea and even jaw pain can signal a heart problem.

Jaw pain can occur during a heart attack because some of the nerves that are responsible for detecting pain in the heart are located in the same area that detects jaw pain. Heart attack symptoms are different for everyone, and if you ever think you may be experiencing them, call 911 right away. It’s always better to be safe and get things checked out.

"Jaw pain can be caused by so many things," Buck said. "The best place to start is with your dentist when you experience even occasional jaw pain so they can help pinpoint exactly where the pain is coming from."

 

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