Causes of Jaw and Tooth Pain

Jaw and tooth pain may feel like a dull ache or a sharp shooting pain. The pain may be constant or triggered by heat or cold. Whatever the symptoms of your jaw and tooth pain, it is important to consider the causes. Serious pain can be a sign of a dangerous condition, such as an abscess or trench mouth.


Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is a common cause of tooth and jaw pain that doctors still do not understand the cause of 1. You may not be aware of your teeth grinding, and the condition may go undiagnosed for some time. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are many possible causes of bruxism, including stress, anger, frustration or an aggressive or hyperactive personality type 1. In children, the cause may be in response to an earache, teething or the growth and development of the jaw or teeth. If the upper and lower teeth are not aligned properly--a disorder known as malocclusion--then the pain may increase. Complications from Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or psychiatric medications are other possible causes.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are the third molars in the jaw. They may become impacted if they don’t have enough room to grow normally. The Mayo Clinic postulates that wisdom teeth may become impacted because modern humans have softer diets and participate in dental care to straighten teeth 12. This results in a mouth shape that cannot house the third molar.

Tooth Abscess

Dr. Alan Carr from the Mayo Clinic defines a tooth abscess as a collection of pus resulting from a bacterial infection. The infection resides in the root of the tooth or in other tissue around the tooth. This can result in a headache, a tooth sensitive to heat or pressure, a fever and swelling in the face or cheek. Carr also states that an abscess must be treated by a dentist. The dentist may drain the abscess, prescribe antibiotics and, in extreme cases, remove the tooth. If the abscess is not treated, it may cause worsening symptoms that may be life-threatening in some cases.

Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorders

Temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, and muscle disorders involve issues with the muscles and joints connecting the lower jaw to the skull 3. According to Medline Plus, TMJ may be caused by physical stress on the joint structure 3. For example, the cartilage disk may become stressed or damaged. Other possible stresses include damage to the muscles, damage to ligaments, blood vessels or nerves, and damage to teeth.

Trench Mouth

According to the Mayo Clinic, other causes of tooth and jaw pain may include trench mouth, a condition in which harmful bacteria overgrow and infect the gums. Large ulcers may form as a result. This is less common in developed nations but not unheard of.