What are the most common causes of jaw and neck pain?

Some of the most common causes of jaw and neck pain are temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, a bulging disc, abnormally aligned neck joints, and stress. In some cases, pain in this area can indicate angina or heart attack pain, and is called referred pain. Severe pain, especially when accompanied by nausea, sweating, and dizziness, requires immediate medical evaluation.

Heart-related pain can travel to the neck and jaw, and when this occurs, it is a medical emergency and needs immediate attention. Usually, this type of pain causes pain in the left neck, but it can also be felt on the right side. When jaw and neck pain is related to cardiac causes, nitroglycerin tablets taken under the tongue are often very effective in dilating constricted blood vessels and relieving pain.

In TMJ cases, the muscles and joints of the temporomandibular joints can become overly stressed or overworked, which can lead to nerve irritation and tension in the jaw and neck. Sometimes TMJ can cause excruciating and unrelenting pain that may lead the patient to seek emergency room services for pain relief. A dentist experienced in treating this problem can offer solutions that may include medications or oral appliances, which when used, can properly align the jaw, reducing pain.

During periods of emotional stress, people sometimes clench their jaw muscles or grind their teeth. These movements put pressure on the jaw and surrounding structures, causing pain. Discomfort in this area can be the result of a muscle sprain or strain, but this type of injury is usually minor and temporary. Treatments for mild pain include over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and acetaminophen-based pain relievers, hot or cold packs, and the use of stabilizing devices such as cervical collars. Mild exercises recommended by health professionals can also be effective; however, they should not be performed when a person is experiencing severe pain.

In cases of severe noncardiac neck and jaw pain, a medical professional may recommend prescription pain relievers. Although effective against severe pain, these types of medications can cause side effects such as extreme drowsiness and confusion, and patients should not drive while taking them. Since prescription pain relievers are often codeine-based, they sometimes cause gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea and constipation. People should never take more than the recommended dose of prescription pain relievers and should only use them short-term, as they have the potential to become addictive.

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