Jaw Pain One Side

Pain is never simple. It can be debilitating and can severely affect the quality of life. Jaw pain on one side can be a signal of a number of medical problems.

There are two kinds of this pain depending on the source. It can either be primary or secondary pain. Problem affecting any of the parts of the jaw leads to primary pain while referred pain from other organs such as the heart, results to secondary pain.

A visit to the dentist will be able to provide a preliminary diagnosis and the dentist can include additional specialists, as needed. [1]

Causes of Jaw Pain One Side

There could be several causes to the jaw pain on one side. It is critical that a good understanding of these causes is built so as to be able to provide an accurate diagnosis.

Primary Pain

  • Bruxism. This condition is acquired when the teeth is frequently grinned and clenched.
  • Abscess. This condition is acquired when nodules in the mouth get inflamed and filled with pus.
  • Tumor. Tumor takes up space and put pressure on surrounding nerves causing unbearable pain.
  • Gum infection. Infection can cause a break on the skin which can hit on the nerves.
  • Malocclusion. This condition happens when the teeth is not evenly spaced which affects chewing.

Picture 1 : Temporomandibular Joint
Source: healthcentral.com

  • Temporomandibular joint disorder. This condition is characterized by the inability to open and close the jaw properly.
  • Trauma to the jaw. If you get hit on the jaw, it can cause trauma and even dislocate the joint.
  • Arthritis of the jaw. This condition is characterized by inflammation of the joint.
  • Bone spurs. Growth of new bones disrupts the arrangement of the arteries, veins, nerves and muscles on the jaw which can cause pain.
  • Bad habits. Habits which put so much work on the jaw such as nail biting and chewing gum can cause inflammation on the joint and result to severe pain. [2]

Secondary Pain

Our body is comprised of a very intricate network of arteries, veins and nerves. Arteries, in general distribute blood away from the heart. Veins, on the other hand, distribute blood to the heart. Nerves are made up of axons which are able to transmit impulses in the peripheral nervous system [3]. Since the nerves are all connected, pain on one organ can be felt on another part of the body.

  • Trigeminal neuralgia. This condition is a disorder affecting the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve has three branches including ophthalmic, maxillary and mandibular nerves which innervate almost all parts of the face. [4]
  • Heart attack. This condition can cause referred pain on the arm and shoulder. [5]
  • Carotidynia. In this condition, the carotid artery becomes tender and can lead to migraine. Migraine can cause people to grind their teeth causing it to be inflamed. [5]

Picture 2 : Ear and Sinus Infection
Source: jaw-pain-relief.com

  • Ear and sinus infections. Infection leads to inflammation which can cause pressure to build up on the cavities of the ear and sinus.
  • Scurvy. This results from deficiency of Vitamin C and result to bleeding of soft tissues. [6]


Prevention of jaw pain in one side is dependent on the specific cause. As for jaw pain on one side, not all of the list of causes listed above can be prevented. Most of the primary pain causes can be prevented such frequently grinding, gum infection and bad habits can be prevented by conscious action and proper dental hygiene. Most of the causes listed on secondary pain section cannot be prevented but can be managed by medication. [7]

Differential Diagnosis and Treatment

Treatment for any disorder depends on the specific cause. However, painkillers are usually provided to manage the pain.

1. Dentist performs assessment. Jaw pain on one side must first be examined by a dentist. Diagnosis can be done with the following methods:

  • The patient is interviewed for the medical history. The medical history is a crucial element of the patient-dentist relationship as it gives the dentist key information to perform diagnosis.
  • The patient undergoes physical exam.
  • The patient is asked to bite with the intention of checking jaw movements.
  • The patient is asked to undergo X-ray procedures.
  • The patient is asked to undergo blood work and other laboratory procedures. [7]

2. Dentist provides recommendations specific to the cause.

  • Splints. In Bruxism and TMJ disorder, there is continuous clenching of the teeth which can even occur when the patient is sleeping. To treat these, dentists use splints such as the hard splint or the hydrosplint. [7]
  • Intra-aural devices. These devices are inserted into the ear and aims to reduce pressure on the TMJ.[7]
  • Medications. Aside from painkillers, medications will need to be taken to ensure that the cause of the pain is controlled, if not eliminated. [7]
  • Arthrocentesis. This is a clinical method which involves collection of the synovial fluid from the joint capsule using a syringe.[8]
  • Surgery. Some cases are more complex and may require repositioning of the jaw. Full recovery from jaw surgery can take up to 3 months. [9]

3. Dentist enrolls other specialists to help on managing other conditions which lead to jaw pain on one side. A heart attack is not something a dentist is trained to manage. Once the dentist has eliminated possible primary pain causes, he can refer the patient to a licensed physician who will perform another round of assessment, perform diagnosis and facilitate treatment. [9]

People are created with the natural aversion to pain. Pain is a negative stimulus which humans avoid at all cost. There are even reflexes which are grounded on the perception of pain. With this, a lot of procedures and medications nowadays are made to resolve people pain problems with zero to minimal pain. Dentists and doctors work hand-in-hand in finding the root cause of the pain and coming up with a treatment plan which considers the overall health and well-being of the patient.


  1. http://byebyedoctor.com/jaw-pain-on-one-side/
  2. http://www.wisegeek.org/what-are-the-causes-of-jaw-pain.htm
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerve
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trigeminal_neuralgia
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carotidynia
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scurvy
  7. http://www.is.wayne.edu/MNISSANI/BRUXNET/nocures.htm
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthrocentesis
  9. http://doublejawsurgery.com/common-questions

Published on by under Pain Management.
Article was last reviewed on September 10th, 2016.

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