Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
The jaw joint, medically referred to as the temporomandibular joint or TMJ, is made up of the bone below the mouth (the mandible, commonly referred to as the jawbone) and the bone just above the mouth (the maxilla). The TMJ allows the upper jaw to close on the lower jaw and is one of the most frequently used joints of the body.
The temporomandibular joints are complex structures containing muscles, tendons, and bones. Injury to or disorders of these structures can all result in pain in the jaw area. Jaw pain may occur on one side or on both sides, depending upon the cause. Jaw pain can result from trauma to the jawbone, including fractures and dislocations. Also depending upon the exact cause, the pain may occur when chewing or may occur at rest. Additionally, other medical conditions not related to the TMJ may cause perceived pain in the jaw area. One of the most characteristic of these is the pain associated with coronary artery disease (angina) or heart attack, which typically occurs in the chest but can radiate (spread) to the jaw area. Some kinds of arthritis, often osteoarthritis, can affect the TMJ and lead to pain when moving the joint. Relaxation and softening of the joints during pregnancy due to secretion of the relaxin hormone can aggravate jaw pain in pregnancy. Less common causes of jaw pain include tumors, cysts, and infection of bone (osteomyelitis). Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition of the nervous system that causes extreme facial pain that sometimes involves the jaw area. Jaw pain can be associated with other symptoms, including
- a "popping" sensation,
- tooth pain,
- difficulty chewing,
- tenderness and aching of other areas of the face or neck.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
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