You’ve suddenly noticed a significant amount of pain radiating from your jaw, so severe you can barely bring your teeth together.
First things first: with this level of pain you should see us as soon as possible. There are a number of possible causes, but only a thorough examination will give us the correct diagnosis and answers we need to develop a plan to treat the cause and alleviate the pain.
With that said, here are a few possible causes for that severe jaw pain.
Injured or diseased teeth. Although the pain you feel seems to come from the jaw in general, the true source may be an individual tooth that’s been traumatized or infected. Because of the interconnectivity of nerves throughout the oral structure, the pain could be radiating from the teeth to the jaws. By effectively treating the affected tooth, we may in turn reduce the jaw pain.
Trauma around the joint. If you’ve taken a physical blow to the area around the jaw joint, the resulting swelling in the joint space is keeping the head of the jaw joint (the “condyle”) from seating in the space properly. You may also notice the upper and lower teeth in the back of your jaw won’t touch. As the swelling from the injury subsides (aided by anti-inflammatory drugs that also reduce pain), the joint should eventually return to its normal position.
Jaw fracture. The most common jaw fracture occurs in the area just below the condyle. The pain is usually much more severe than you might experience with indirect trauma. Fractures are normally treated by repositioning the broken bone and immobilizing the area to allow healing.
Joint dislocation. The injury you’ve sustained may have actually moved the condyle out of the joint space. If this is the case careful manipulation may be needed to reseat the condyle back into place, along with anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling.
TMJ or TMD. Muscle spasms can cause significant pain with similar symptoms, including limiting jaw movement. Only an examination with x-rays (to determine if it’s a soft tissue or bone-related injury) can narrow down the possibilities to the true cause. The sooner we make that determination and begin treatment the better you’ll feel — and the less likely the injury will result in irreversible damage.