Jaw Pain

Recently I saw a patient who had pain when she opened her jaw and the condition had been going on for 3 weeks or so without any change.  She was obviously concerned.

When I placed my thumb in her mouth outside the molars on the affected side, she was extremely tender and told me that this was the painful area for her. My explanation to her was that this was similar to having a sprained ankle and the muscle needed time to heal. The problem with these muscles is that they move with chewing and talking. Also many people sleep with the side of the face on the pillow which could also possibly exacerbate the pain. I recommended a soft diet for this patient, (not one where one opens wide as in eating a submarine sandwich). Additionally, I had the patient apply ice for 15 minutes, then an hour or two later apply moist heat for 15 minutes, and alternate this every couple of hours until the symptoms resolved. The patient reported that the pain was gone within a week.

An internet search of  jaw pain produces lots and lots of articles, a host of possible causes and many different ways to treat this condition.  Even from dentist to dentist there are different treatments, many which can be time consuming and costly.

As a general dentist, this is not my specialty. There are many dentists who have taken up a more extensive study of this problem, and some even specialize in it. My choices are to send the patient to a physical therapist if the patient is in acute pain. For more chronic conditions I refer them to a specialty dentist. In the past when I referred a patient to such a specialist, they would do an extensive workup, then make the patient a bite guard and refer them to a physical therapist. So for many, I will just place them in a bite guard before sending them to a specialist. This has been fairly successful over the years, avoiding an expensive run around. Then there are patients with extensive problems who may need major dental work to correct their bite (which may be their problem) or even have surgery on their joint.