Toothache or Jaw Pain: How to Tell the Difference

head pain

Learn The Difference Between Toothache or Jaw Pain


Toothache and jaw pain are two of the most common sources of discomfort experienced in the oral region. Although they have similar symptoms, there are distinct differences between the two. Understanding these differences will help to diagnose and treat each condition more effectively. In this article, we’ll explore what toothache and jaw pain are, compare and contrast them, list possible causes of both conditions, identify how to differentiate one from the other, and provide guidance on when to seek professional medical help. 

Defining Toothache 

Toothache is a term used for any type of pain that occurs around or inside one or more teeth. It may be caused by various factors including an abscessed tooth, gum disease (periodontal disease), a cracked tooth, or an exposed nerve. The pain is localized in the area of the affected tooth and can range from mild to severe. It may be sharp and shooting, throbbing, dull and aching, or even cause general discomfort. 

Defining Jaw Pain 

Jaw pain is any type of discomfort that affects the jaw joint (TMJ) or muscles around it. This kind of pain can occur due to trauma from an injury, dental procedures such as extractions or other oral surgeries, bruxism (teeth grinding), temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), arthritis, and more. Depending on its source, jaw pain can be felt in different areas of the face such as the cheeks, chin, teeth, and jaw. It can vary in intensity from mild to severe and may be a dull ache or sharp shooting pain. 

Comparing and Contrasting Toothache and Jaw Pain 

Although both toothache and jaw pain are considered oral pains, they have distinct differences between them. Generally speaking, toothache is localized around the affected tooth while jaw pain affects the muscles of the TMJ or the joint itself. Additionally, toothache is more likely to cause persistent throbbing pain while jaw pain usually causes an aching sensation or general discomfort. Possible causes for each condition differ as well – toothaches may be caused by an abscessed tooth whilst jaw pain could be caused by bruxism or TMD. 

Possible Causes of Toothache and Jaw Pain 

Toothache can be caused by several factors including tooth decay, abscessed teeth, impacted wisdom teeth, cracked tooth syndrome, gum disease (periodontal disease), cavities, or an exposed nerve.On the other hand, jaw pain may be due to bruxism (teeth grinding), temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), arthritis, trauma from injury/surgery/extractions, dental procedures such as root canal treatments or extractions. It could also result from sinus issues or even psychological issues such as stress and anxiety. 

Identifying the Differences Between Toothache and Jaw Pain 

To accurately diagnose the source of your pain, it is important to be able to identify what distinguishes toothache from jaw pain. Generally speaking, the symptoms of toothache usually include a sharp and sudden pain when biting down, sensitivity to hot and cold food/drinks, or persistent throbbing feeling near the affected area. Whereas, jaw pain usually involves an aching pain in the surrounding facial muscles or joint area of the face as well as difficulty in chewing and opening the mouth. 

Guidance on When to Consult a Healthcare Professional 

If you are experiencing any type of oral pains such as toothache or jaw pain, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Your healthcare provider will assess your symptoms and medical history before deciding on the best course of action. Depending on the severity and cause of your pain, they could prescribe medications to relieve discomfort or suggest a specific treatment plan such as surgery for more serious cases. 


Toothache and jaw pain can have several potential causes thus it is important to be able to differentiate between them in order to seek proper diagnosis and treatment. Ultimately, if you are experiencing any type of oral pains, it is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.