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3 Common Causes of Jaw Pain: A Guide for Students in Dental Assistant Training

May 4, 2016

patient complains of toothache

When talking, eating, swallowing, or even touching the jaw area causes pain, patient’s know: it’s time to book an appointment with their local dentist’s office. If you’re considering a career in the dental field, it’s wise to prepare for the jaw problems your future patients will experience. After all, the jaw is one of the most frequently used joints in the body! It often needs expert attention.

Jaw pain is any kind of discomfort felt in the jaw area, made up of the lower jaw (mandible or ‘jaw bone’), temporomandibular joint (connecting the mandible to the temporal bone of the skull) and surrounding soft tissues.  Whether occurring suddenly or building up over time, jaw discomfort can feel like a dull ache, a sharp pain, or even restrict the mobility of the lower face.

Jaw pain is generally caused by a few key factors. To get you started on a successful dental assisting career of your own, here are three common causes of jaw pain to know.

1. Teeth Grinding: Learn About this Common Condition During Dental Assistant Training

Jaw pain is occasionally an indicator of serious diseases, disorders, and dental conditions—but most often, the relatively mild condition of teeth grinding is to blame for a patient’s discomfort.

Many people grind their teeth when they feel stressed, or unconsciously while they sleep. If left untreated, grinding can lead to tooth damage and lasting jaw pain. In your dental assistant training you will learn how to recognize teeth grinders while you perform routine cleanings. During your studies, you’ll also come to understand effective treatment methods for teeth grinders, including stress-relieving exercises and the nightly use of a custom mouth guard that protects teeth and the jaw from damage.

Teeth-grinding can be easily treated with a mouth guard

Teeth-grinding can be easily treated with a mouth guard

2. TMD: A Common, Complex Jaw Issue Studied in Dental Assistant Schools

When patients complain to skilled dental assistants about jaw pain, dental assistants often ask whether the patient experiences ‘clicking’ just in front of their ears when chewing or opening their mouths wide. A clicking jaw is a telltale sign of trouble in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), known to dental professionals as temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

TMD can be caused by wear and tear, injury, or infection in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues surrounding the joint. In severe cases, TMD can even cause the jaw to become permanently stuck in an open or closed position. When patients have regular dental appointments, dental assistants can recognize problematic TMD symptoms before the disorder becomes too serious.

3. An Abscessed Tooth: Deep Discomfort Dental Assistants Can Help Resolve

If you’re considering a dental assistant career, you likely already understand the value and importance of keeping teeth healthy. Students in dental assistant schools know that a clean and healthy smile comes from regular dental exams, treatments, and professional cleanings.

Jaw pain can often come as a result of neglecting oral health. For example, if cavities aren’t treated promptly and left for an extended period of time, infections can drive deeper into a patient’s teeth and make a home within patients’ jaws. When bacteria from cavities spread from the root of the tooth to surrounding bone tissue, a patient is left with an abscessed tooth and sore jaw.

With the right training, you’ll learn how to properly identify an abscessed tooth and assist a dentist performing the invasive oral surgeries necessary for healing its surrounding area—helping patients find relief from this painful problem.

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