Pain on one side of the jaw, or unilateral pain, can stem from a variety of causes. Often there is a problem in the jaw itself. Jaw pain might also be a symptom of heart problems or infection. Pain in one side of the jaw is usually classified into primary and secondary pain.
Primary pain is the result of a medical problem occurring within the jaw. Secondary pain is due to a problem somewhere else in the body. Pain can be referred from another organ, such as the heart.
Primary jaw pain might be easily remedied with a trip to the dentist. Depending on the underlying cause, but other causes may be serious and need immediate medical care.
Causes of Jaw Pain On One Side
Since pain is the symptom so jaw pain can be due to a number of conditions or diseases. These include:
- Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction
- Jaw Arthritis
- Dental Problems
- Trauma to the Jaw
- Heart Attack
Bruxism is caused by constant grinding and clenching of teeth during sleep. It becomes recognized when a person feels pain in jaw or experience jaw disorders. The condition can also cause earache and facial pain.
Depression, anxiety and insomnia are contributors to bruxism.
Disorders of the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)
The most frequent cause of pain in one side of the jaw is Temporomandibular joint or TMJ problems. Besides bruxism, TMJ dysfunction can occur from nail biting.
Jaw arthritis is also responsible for one sided jaw pain. It can be rheumatoid in nature, septic, which means an infection, or due to osteoarthritis. Jaw arthritis can also stem from trauma from direct injury or repetitive use and aging.
Teeth problems are one of the leading causes of jaw pain that is often accompanied by discomfort in the mouth. Dental problems linked to jaw pain include broken teeth, tooth cavities, periodontal disease, gingivitis and recent dental fillings and oral surgery.
Mouth or jaw infection can cause severe pain on one side of the jaw. Emerging wisdom teeth can cause pain.
Bone spurs that are bony growths that can form in the region of the Temporomandibular joint can produce pain in the jaw that worsens when the mouth is opened. The most common cause of jaw bone spurs is aging from wear and tear on the jawbone.
Damage to the Jaw Due to Trauma
Every range of injury to either side of the jaw can result into unilateral soreness and pain of the jaw. Such types of injuries are frequently seen in road or motor vehicle accidents and also in contact sports. Trauma to the jaw is the most universal reason of pain on one side of the jaw.
Left sided jaw pain is a common sign of heart attack, especially if accompanied by chest pain that radiates to the left arm.
One sided jaw pain is not limited to just above mentioned causes, but it can be the result of numerous other causes such as
- Phossy jaw as a result of white phosphorus contact
- Sinus infection
- Osteonecrosis: Death of jaw bone tissue that can occur from infection and some drugs
- Actinomycosis: A bacterial infection
- Lyme disease: An infection that can be transmitted by a tick bite
- Parotitis: Inflammation of the parotid gland
- Osteomyelitis: Bone infection
- Malignancies of the head and neck or cancer
- Tumors or cysts in the jaw
- Trigeminal neuralgia: Also known as tic douloureux, which is a severe type of one sided facial pain that is often described as electric-like, sharp, or burning in nature. Shaving, touching the face, chewing, and brushing the teeth can trigger the pain.
- Thumb sucking: There is evidence that thumb sucking can injure the bones of the jaw as a result of pressure applied on the jaw joints and this produces jaw pain on one side. The pain of the jaw may be moderate to severe. It can be aggravated while talking, eating, yawning or chewing.
The above conditions are only some of the most common causes of pain on one side of the jaw. If your symptom of pain is mild, you can wait to see if the problem will resolve on its own.
It is important to understand that jaw pain can mean a serious underlying medical issue. Speak with your doctor, especially if you are unable to understand what is causing your jaw pain issues.
Any painful condition should be diagnosed by a physician. Your doctor or dentist will take your history and perform a medical exam. X-rays, lab tests and perhaps a visit to a medical specialist might be required.
The conservative management for unilateral jaw pain is with the help of over-the-counter pain killers. Heat compression or ice compressions may also relieve pain, but follow your doctor’s advice.
The definitive management is the correction of underlying cause.
Treatment for Bruxism
Usually there is no need of treatment for Bruxism. A mouth guard or splint might be recommended. Drugs such as muscle relaxants and antidepressants might be prescribed if the cause if from anxiety. Sometimes behaviour therapy is suggested.
For Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and the cause of the condition. Anti-inflammatory drugs, pain killers, muscle relaxants and steroid injections are usually prescribed by the doctors. There are certain therapies such as relaxation and jaw exercises that help to relieve the pain from temporomandibular joint disorder.
Treatment for Jaw Arthritis
Drugs such as pain relievers, anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants are enough to treat the pain and inflammation due to arthritis. Splints may be beneficial for some people. Physical therapy is also helpful. In severe cases surgery is needed.
Treatment for Dental Problems
For the problems related to teeth, a need is to visit a dentist and get a full checkup of the mouth. He/she will then diagnose a condition. Treatment will be given as according to the diagnosis or disease.
Bone growths or spurs need to be removed surgically. Gum infection from periodontal disease or gingivitis may require frequent dental visits to eradicate bacteria and improve gum tissue health.
Treatment For Trigeminal Neuralgia
This condition cannot be treated easily. Medical treatment involves use of anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine and antispasmodic agents. One example is Baclofen. Sometimes the drugs need to be titrated. If medical treatment fails to treat trigeminal neuralgia, surgery might be recommended to decompress the nerve.
Other treatment options include glycerol injection, balloon compression and radiofrequency thermal lesioning.
Treatment For Other Conditions
- If pain of jaw on one side is linked with migraine, it should be managed by those drugs that treat this condition of migraine.
- Abscess requires drainage and use of antibiotics.
- Tumors or malignancy of teeth, head and neck need full investigation and removal by surgery. They may also require radiotherapy as well as chemotherapy.
- American Dental Association: Jaw Pain
- Mayo Clinic: Bruxism: Teeth Grinding
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Trigeminal Neuralgia
- MedLine Plus: Osteonecrosis
- MedicineNet: Check your jaw pain symptoms
- United States Search and Rescue Task Force: Lyme Disease
- New York Presbyterian Hospital: TMJ/Jaw Arthritis
- John’s Hopkins Medicine: Jaw Related Conditions
- eMedicineHealth: Bone Spurs
- NYU.edu: Parotitis
- London Pain Clinic: Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
- NHS: Osteomyelitis Treatment and Choices
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Tension Headache
- PubMed.gov: Phossy Jaw
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