There are a lot of dental reasons why your jaw might hurt. Some of the most common include TM joint disorders, misaligned teeth and clenching/grinding habits. Toothaches and infections can contribute to jaw pain, as well.
But the jaw doesn’t exist in isolation from the body. Everything is connected in a singular whole that is you. Consequently, pain in the jaw can sometimes be a symptom of problems beyond the dental sphere – heart attack, for instance.
When this is the case, the jaw pain is usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. Dentist Dr. Carl Herrera gives a good description of the differences between heart related jaw pain and other conditions in a recent article in Senior Magazine:
The pain is usually on the left side, and confined to the molars of the lower jaw. Pain in the lower jaw can also be related to tooth or gum issues, cancer or TMJ disorders. Pain in the upper jaw is usually not a heart symptom, but can be tooth or gum issues, cancer or a sinus infection. All of these conditions are not usually accompanied by the other heart attack symptoms, unless you have both a heart and tooth condition. Seek emergency medical care if you have jaw pain accompanied by the other symptoms of a heart attack. If you are having jaw or oral conditions not associated with symptoms of a heart attack, you should seek care from your dentist to determine the source of discomfort.
While Dr. Herrera notes that jaw pain as a heart-related symptom is more common in women than men, it does occur in men, as well.
This was the case with Dr. Verigin’s first observation of the phenomenon, early in his dental career.
As he describes it, he received a phone call one afternoon from a family friend who was also a patient. The friend described a severe toothache he was having in his lower left jaw. Dr. Verigin said he would meet him at the office to have a look, see what was going on.
“I didn’t find any tooth problems at all,” says Dr. Verigin. “So I asked him about other physical symptoms. He described pain in his left arm, radiating down to his pinky and ring fingers, severe tightness in his left neck area and pain in his left shoulder blade region.
“I suggested he contact his physician as soon as possible.”
The friend scoffed at the idea that the pain in his jaw could have anything to do with his heart, but when he did see his physician next, the doctor diagnosed his cardiovascular problems and put him on a drug regimen to “control” them.
“My diagnosis proved to be right on,” adds Dr. Verigin. “Even though I knew nothing about acupuncture or meridians [energetic pathways that connect various organs], I did know referred pain pathways from my dental school science classes.”