If you are experiencing jaw pain, it can sometimes be hard to tell if you’re having salivary gland problems or if it’s related to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ or TMD). After all, both pains could show up when you’re eating, either due to saliva flow or due to jaw muscle action.
It can be hard to distinguish between the two conditions, and it’s best to see a doctor or a TMJ dentist for a diagnosis, but here are some things to look for.
Salivary Gland Problems
The most common problem with your salivary glands is an infection by bacteria or viruses. Infection may occur in any of the salivary glands, which means that pain could occur at several places in the jaw. It may mimic TMJ in that you may have pain on opening your jaw and may not be able to fully open your jaw. Swelling may occur in both conditions, though it’s more likely to be localized in a salivary gland infection.
Symptoms that will distinguish a salivary gland infection from TMJ include a foul or unusual taste in your mouth, pus in your mouth, or dry mouth. You should also watch out for other signs of infection, such as fever or chills.
Because these infected glands can restrict or even cut off breathing, it’s important to talk to a doctor quickly if you suspect infected salivary glands.
TMJ can usually be distinguished from salivary gland problems by identifying the exact location of discomfort. TMJ pain is usually located in the jaw joint or in the jaw muscles. Touching them will show that they are tender. Salivary gland pain is located in one or more of the salivary glands. The parotid glands are actually located near the temporomandibular joint, but it won’t be disturbed by a gentle touch on the jaw joint. It will respond to touches from inside the mouth, though. Other salivary glands are located below your lower jaw or below your tongue.
TMJ may also come with other symptoms, such as ear pain or fullness, ringing in the ears or vertigo, headaches, neck pain, back pain, facial pain, or potentially tingling in any and all of these areas.