Jaw Pain - Is It a Sinus Infection or TMJ Disorder?

If you have pain in your jaw or back teeth, it could be for more than one reason. If you are also suffering from other symptoms, it’s likely that either a sinus infection (sinusitis) or a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is to blame. Both of these conditions share several symptoms such as:

  • Jaw pain
  • Headaches
  • Tooth pain or toothache
  • Neck pain
  • Ringing in the ears

As you can see, these two are easily confused but it’s important to work out which one is the culprit in order to treat your jaw pain more effectively.

What is a Sinus Infection?

A sinus infection, or sinusitis, affects the cavities in the bones in your forehead, between your eyes and behind your cheekbones. If your sinuses become blocked, usually due to allergies or a cold, they can become infected and inflamed. If you have the following symptoms, it’s likely sinusitis that’s causing your jaw pain:

  • A runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Loss of smell
  • Facial pressure
  • Fever

Can a Sinus Infection Cause Tooth or Jaw Pain?

If your sinuses are inflamed, they can affect the nerves in your teeth, especially the upper back teeth and upper jaw. This causes dental pain which can be relieved by treating your sinusitis as a whole.

How to Treat Sinusitis Tooth and Jaw Pain

When you treat your sinusitis, the symptoms will lessen and your dental pain will improve. Sinus infections can range from being mild to chronic so please consult with your doctor if you’re experiencing intense or long-lasting sinus pain. For relief from the symptoms of sinusitis, you can try some of the following remedies:

  • Use a vaporizer or the steam from a bowl of warm water to moisten your nasal passages
  • Use warm compresses against your sinuses
  • Try saline nose drops or other decongestants recommended for sinusitis
  • Drink plenty of water or fluids
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom
  • Add an extra pillow at night to keep your head tilted at a better angle for your congestion

What is a TMJ Disorder / TMD?

If you do not have the symptoms relating to sinusitis, it may be that a temporomandibular joint disorder, otherwise known as TMJ disorder or TMD is the source of your jaw pain. Your temporomandibular joints attach the sides of your jawbone to your skull and if they get out of line, which can happen for a variety of reasons, jaw and dental pain can occur.

Can a TMJ Disorder Cause Tooth or Jaw Pain?

Yes. People with TMJ disorders will feel pain in the jaw and adjacent muscles. Here are the symptoms that differentiate TMD jaw pain from jaw pain coming from sinusitis:

  • Joint pain at the back of the jaw
  • Pain around the ears
  • Difficulty when chewing
  • Stiff or locking jaw muscles
  • Neck and facial pain
  • A change in your bite

How to Treat Tooth or Jaw Pain from TMD

If you have persistent jaw pain, make an appointment to see your dentist. Luckily, most TMD are easily resolved by following some of these steps:

  • Doing exercises to stretch your jaw
  • Taking general pain relieving medication
  • Eating softer foods
  • Avoiding things like biting your nails, chewing gum and resting your chin on your hand
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Using a nightguard to protect against bruxism or teeth clenching

Sometimes, other procedures to correct TMJ disorders might be necessary, such as  corticosteroid injections or surgery but any treatments should help relieve your jaw pain.