The Women's Journal

Why Does My Jaw Hurt?

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By Laura Dougherty, D.D.S.

Do you feel your jaw pop or click when you yawn or chew? Do you wake up in the morning and have jaw pain or tightness? TMJ or TMD also known as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder is a relatively common condition that affects more than 10 million people at some point in time in their life. This condition more commonly affects women than men, according to the National Institute of Health. Unfortunately, diagnosing this can be difficult, and treatment can be complicated. However, a good place to start looking for answers is with your dentist.  

Your dentist will do a thorough exam to determine the underlying cause of the pain. Is it joint or muscle related? Is it tooth related? By performing a thorough evaluation and taking a full mouth x-ray called a Panorex, your dentist can evaluate the joint and eliminate any potential problems with your teeth or jawbone. If the Panorex appears normal and the joint shows minimal wear, it may be due to muscle tightness secondary to clenching or grinding your teeth. So, the next question is, why are you clenching or grinding your teeth? 

There are many causes of clenching/grinding your teeth. It can be tooth related, stress related, and even airway related. Your dentist may ask you a series of questions to determine the underlying cause of your jaw pain. Have you had dental treatment lately, have you been under stress lately, or do you snore at night? 

When a patient comes in to see me with pain in their jaw, one of the first things I look for is a tooth problem. Have they had dental work lately? Could a change in their bite have caused an imbalance in their joint? Did the Panorex reveal any infections or abnormalities in their jaw that could be causing the pain? If the pain is tooth related, we may need to do a bite adjustment, root canal or oral surgery consult to alleviate the issue.  

It is actually very common for stress to cause clenching and grinding. I see a number of women who carry a lot of their stress in their neck and jaw, causing pain, clicking, headaches and neck pain. Although I treat several women with this issue, men can clench and grind due to stress as well. If it has been determined that this is the cause of the jaw pain, I recommend an anti-inflammatory regimen such as Advil, soft diet, and a night guard to help relax the muscles that are causing the jaw pain. There are times when I treat these muscles with Botox@ in order to prevent these muscles from creating so much force on the jaw.  

Sleep apnea has become a big discussion in dentistry over the last 10 years because of its implications in the mouth. Patients who snore or have apnea tend to grind their teeth while sleeping because it’s their body’s way of opening their airway more. If we determine that this may be a cause, I will refer them to a sleep specialist for a sleep study and a proper apnea diagnosis.  

Unfortunately, I have seen more and more patients with jaw pain over the last few years and treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution. I feel the best thing I can do for these patients is to sit down and listen to them. Just by taking the time to have a conversation, we can begin to unravel the mystery of their jaw pain and allow them to get the answers they have been looking for.  

For more information, or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Dougherty, contact the office at 302-475-3270 or visit


Born and raised in Delaware’s Sussex County, “Dr. D” earned a B.A. degree in Biology from the University of Delaware in 2001 before going on to study dentistry at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, achieving her Doctorate of Dental Surgery degree in 2006. After completing her General Practice Residency with the Christiana Care Dental Residency Program, she went into private practice for 11 years prior to opening Dougherty Dental Solutions in 2018. Dr. Dougherty has been named Top Dentist in Delaware Today for three years in a row, taking pride in restoring and maintaining her patients’ smiles.


“Amazing Dr.! She took her time explaining everything in detail. Also her staff was AMAZING. If you are looking for an amazing Dentist, this is the place to be. I had 2 crowns to get done. She was so particular to get a good foundation. Also the temporary feels better than my original crown that I had done at a different dentist. Thanks a million Dr. Dougherty.” ~ SS

“Love it here. For the first time in years, I don’t dread going to the dentist. Dr Dougherty and staff are caring, thorough and very professional. I highly recommend them if you are looking for an outstanding dentist.”  ~ JD

“My first visit to the dentist was very positive. The staff was excellent and friendly, the process was easy, and the care was second-to-none. The office pooch, Cooper, made it even better! I would recommend them to anyone.”  ~ SM

Dougherty Dental Solutions

2505 Silverside Road, Wilmington, DE


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