I recently felt pain that begins in my lower jaw and goes up the side of my face toward the temple. What would cause this, and should I be concerned?
A. There are several conditions to consider, a couple of which require prompt treatment.
A common cause of new jaw pain is an irritated nerve. Doctors call this condition neuralgia. If you had shingles in the past, you might be experiencing post-herpetic neuralgia. Or it could be a disorder called trigeminal neuralgia, also known as tic douloureux. People with diabetes also can develop facial neuralgias.
Jaw pain also could be a symptom of coronary artery disease, although there would typically be other symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure and shortness of breath with physical exertion or emotional stress.
Another potential cause of sudden jaw pain is temporal arteritis. This is an inflammation of blood vessels that causes headaches and jaw pain that develops after chewing for a while. It is important to at least consider this condition because it requires prompt treatment with the drug prednisone to avoid complications like losing eyesight.
Two other possibilities also come to mind: cluster headaches and TMJ disorder. Cluster headaches could cause your symptoms, especially if the pain is severe, appears around the same time each day, and lasts for a few hours. This type of headache tends to be throbbing and is often located around one eye and higher up in the head. TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder also might play a role if there is discomfort and tenderness at the point where the lower jaw hinges to the upper jaw.
Since there are multiple possibilities, you should see your doctor to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.
— by Howard LeWine, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men's Health Watch
Image: © Highwaystarz-Photography/Getty Images
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