Jaw Pain


The Causes of Jaw Pain

Nearly everyone suffers from some sort of jaw pain at some time in their lives. Pain may be continuous or occasional, severe or mild, sharp and shooting or an aching throb. It can be very specific or extremely vague. Regardless of the specific symptoms, it usually has the singular purpose of notifying the patient that something is not quite right.

The head and neck region is an incredibly complex part of the human body, both anatomically and functionally. There are any number of conditions that can cause jaw pain, which can make the diagnosis challenging.

When patients experience jaw pain that does not go away, they should pay close attention to all of their symptoms and schedule an appointment at Elegant Dental Care. Providing a clear and detailed record of your medical history to Dr Sohn in most cases determine the origin if it is dental related and start taking steps to correct the problem.

The Many Causes

Jaw pain can be disconcerting for patients. It affects their ability to eat, speak, sleep, and function throughout the day. It can also take a toll on their sense of well-being.

It would be difficult to list all possible causes for jaw pain. However, most of the complaints normally heard in dental offices are caused by conditions that fit into a few broad categories.


Dr Sohn will begin the evaluation process under the assumption that the cause of a patient's pain is related to dentition. This would include cracked, decayed, or abscessed teeth, teeth that are overly sensitive because of dentin hypersensitivity, teeth that are damaged as a result of gum disease, or impacted wisdom teeth. If a definite offender can be found, the search might stop here, and treatment can begin.

Depending on the causative factor, the treatment could consist of placing restorations, performing root canal therapy or tooth desensitization procedures, wisdom tooth removal, or the treatment or extraction.

When patients experience jaw pain that does not go away, they should pay close attention to all of their symptoms and schedule an appointment at Elegant Dental Care. Providing a clear and detailed record of your medical history to Dr Sohn in most cases determine the origin if it is dental related and start taking steps to correct the problem.


Another area Dr Sohn will investigate is the jaw joint, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Patients who grit, clench, or grind their teeth excessively, who have an uneven bite, are under a great deal of stress, or who have a pathologic condition in the joint itself, such as arthritis or disk displacement, could be suffering from a condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. Its symptoms include an aching jaw, pain on opening and closing, jaw stiffness, and popping or clicking in the jaw. Another condition that can mimic pain in the TMJ and should be considered in the differential diagnosis is ear pain, such as that caused by an ear infection.

The treatment for TMD is usually a multi-pronged approach, which could include measures to lower stress levels, fabricating a bite guard, applying heat and/or cold packs, and dispensing pain medications. If these measures do not work, Dr Sohn may consider referring you to a maxillofacial and oral surgeon to evaluate whether surgery on the TMJ is indicated. If the pain is believed to be radiating from the ear, referral to a physician might be the next step.


Jaw Pathology

There are a variety of fluid-filled cysts and other pathological tumors that can form in the jaws and cause pain. These include such entities as dentigerous cysts, odontomas, ameloblastomas, and cancerous lesions. These can sometimes grow aggressively and destroy a large portion of the jaw. Elegant Dental Care’s panoramic radiograph is the best way to quickly identify or rule out this source of pain. If a lesion is located, Dr Sohn will refer you to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for further evaluation and treatment.


The maxillary sinus is located just above the roots of the upper back teeth. When it becomes inflamed or infected, it can cause pain that feels identical to a toothache in an upper molar. Dr Sohn has many years of experience and will be able to distinguish between the two, and if the pain is sinus-related, Dr Sohn will refer you to a physician for treatment of the sinus condition.

Nerve and/or Vascular

This could be any one of a large group of neuralgias arising in the head and neck region that are caused by nerve and/or vascular tissues. Some of these are relatively common, but a few are not. These include such conditions as tension, cluster, or migraine headaches, a type of nerve pain known as trigeminal neuralgia, temporal arteritis, and a host of others. In the event tha Dr Sohn suspects any of these conditions he will refer you to a physician for further evaluation.


Problems arising in other parts of the body can present as jaw pain. Pain that is felt in a location other than its point of origin is known as referred pain. Dr Sohn is well aware of this phenomenon and almost always considers it as part of his differential diagnosis if he is unable to establish any other cause for the pain.

One particularly significant type of referred pain to the jaw that Dr Sohn has seen arises during a heart attack. A patients may come to Elegant Dental Care complaining of pain in the jaw. When Dr Sohn cannot find a dentition-related cause for the pain he will recommend that his patient be immediately transported to a local hospital or medical facility equipped to treat his patient in the event that his patient could be having a heart attack. Other possible symptoms the patient might be having include:

  • Pain in the left shoulder
  • Pressure or tightness in the chest
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Shortness of breath and fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

Especially suspect are those patients who have heart attack risk factors—for example, a middle-aged smoker who is overweight, perhaps diabetic, in poor physical shape, and who has a history of hypertension and/or high cholesterol. In cases such as these, decisive action by Dr Sohn could save the patient's life.

The Road to Relief Begins at the Dental Office

There are many possible causes for jaw pain, and patients cannot always discern what is causing theirs. If it persists, you should schedule a dental appointment at Elegant Dental Care. Dr Sohn is highly astute in evaluating the source of head and neck pain, and he is well qualified to treat many of the causes. For those patients he is unable to help, he will refer them to the appropriate medical specialist.

Elegant Dental Care

Dr. Sohn uses innovative techniques and cutting-edge technology to provide world-class oral healthcare to the community of Loma Linda and surrounding areas. He is a member of a number of professional associations, including:

  • American Dental Association
  • California Dental Association
  • Academy of General Dentistry: Mastership awarded
  • American Academy of Implant Dentistry
  • International Congress of Implantologists (ICOI): Fellowship awarded
  • Alliance of the American Dental Association

To learn more, or to schedule an appointment, contact us online or call our Loma Linda, CA, office at (909) 478-9777.

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