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There are many potential causes of a tight jaw. Your lifestyle, jaw disorders, and certain illnesses can all play a role in mild and severe jaw tightness.
Each side of your jaw has a joint (temporomandibular joint, or TMJ) and muscles that perform several tasks. Tight jaw joints muscles can affect chewing, yawning, speaking, and singing.1, 2
You may have jaw tightness that comes on suddenly. Alternatively, you may notice tension or low mobility in your jaw that persists over time. This can affect one or both sides of your jaw.
A tight jaw can have various causes, some of which might co-occur. Five significant causes of jaw tightness include:
Your jaw can tighten as a result of stress or anxiety. People’s bodies show stress in different ways, including tensing muscles. This includes the jaw muscles.
Stress and anxiety can also contribute to bruxism and TMJ disorders, which can tighten your jaw.
Many people engage in bruxism, an unconscious habit of clenching or grinding teeth. This can occur while you’re awake or asleep, and over time it can cause your jaw to stiffen or reduce mobility.
Bruxism can be a response to stress or anxiety, but it can have other causes, such as stimulant drugs and other underlying conditions.
Similarly, excessive chewing can overexert jaw muscles. Chewing gum, tough foods, and jaw exercise products can all cause a tight jaw. Take a break if you’ve recently chewed heavily and see if the stiffness subsides.
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) includes various conditions that affect the jaw joint. TMD symptoms include:
The causes of TMD aren’t entirely clear. Stress, personality type, and conditions such as arthritis can all be risk factors.
Arthritis (joint inflammation) can cause your jaw to stiffen and lose mobility. There are many forms of arthritis, but the two most common are:
Tetanus is a potentially fatal infection, also referred to as lockjaw. It can cause involuntary spasms in the neck, jaw, abdominal, and other muscles. These painful contractions can cause breathing difficulties.
Tetanus can be treated, but it’s best to prevent it through vaccination. Most people in the United States are vaccinated against tetanus.
If you spend ample time sitting down looking at a screen, you may have rounded shoulders and a forward-arched neck. This poor posture can ultimately transfer tension to your jaw.
Maintaining good posture and mobility in your neck, back, and shoulders may help relieve jaw tightness.
Other potential causes of jaw pain or stiffness include:
Some of these causes are relatively minor, but others can be life-threatening.
See a doctor if you notice severe symptoms, such as fever or visible changes in your jaw.
If your jaw feels stiff or has a limited range of motion, you may also notice other symptoms, such as:
The specific symptoms you experience may differ depending on the underlying cause. Tetanus, for example, can cause your neck and abdominal muscles to tense.
Less commonly, jaw stiffness may follow up with fever, visible jaw appearance differences, or severe pain. Again, if you notice these symptoms, see a doctor.
See your dentist if you have jaw stiffness that:
Don’t ignore the issue if it worsens or involves other severe symptoms. Your dentist can identify the cause of your tight jaw and provide the necessary treatment.
If you are in severe pain or have symptoms of tetanus, see a doctor as soon as possible.
To determine the reason for your jaw pain or stiffness, your dentist or doctor will:
Various possible conditions may cause your jaw to tighten. Your dentist or doctor will want to ensure the root cause to determine the best treatment for you.
Depending on the severity and cause of your jaw tightness, you can treat it at home. In other cases, lasting relief may require professional treatment.
Some home remedies to relieve a stiff jaw include:
These home remedies can be considered a first-line defense against jaw pain, soreness, and tension. If they aren’t effective, it may be time to consult your dentist or doctor.
Professional treatment for a stiff jaw may be needed, especially if you have a more severe TMJ issue. Your doctor or dentist will likely recommend starting with less invasive treatments before considering surgery.
The following are the least invasive professional options for jaw relief:
If the above treatments aren’t effective, minimally invasive injections may be the next step. These include:
TMJ surgery is generally considered a last resort for jaw problems that haven’t experienced relief from other treatments. These procedures are irreversible and can have complications.
TMJ surgeries include:
You can make jaw pain and stiffness less likely in the first place by doing the following:
Many people experience tension, tightness, or stiffness in the jaw. There are various causes, ranging from mild to severe.
A stiff jaw can interfere with daily life. It can affect how you speak, chew, yawn, and swallow. Fortunately, there are many ways to find relief, including home remedies and professional treatments.
Talk to your dentist or doctor if you have jaw pain or tension that affects your life or doesn’t improve with time.
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