What Causes Jaw Tightness & How to Relieve Symptoms

September 1, 2021

The jaw joint is called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ for short) and consists of a ball and socket joint similar to the shoulder joint. The TMJ plays a large role in chewing, opening and closing the mouth, yawning and speaking. Tight jaw muscles can be due to stress/anxiety, TMJ disorders, tetanus, teeth clenching/grinding and arthritis.


Muscle tension in the jaw can be caused by stress and anxiety. Tension can lead to clenching, grinding and tightness of the muscles in the head and neck. It is important to try to alleviate stress and anxiety.

TMJ Disorders 

TMJ disorders are very common, and it is estimated that at least 10 million people in the USA have experienced a TMJ disorder at least once in their life. TMJ disorders affect the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles. TMJ disorders can be due to physical injury, grinding/clenching and inflammation. TMJ disorder symptoms include pain in the joint/face/neck, headaches, popping/clicking of the joint, and difficulty opening and closing the jaw. 


Tetanus causes painful muscle contractions caused by a bacterial infection. It can affect a person’s ability to open/close their mouth and to swallow. There is a vaccine that protects against tetanus. 


The term for grinding/clenching is bruxism, which occurs unconsciously asleep or awake. Bruxism can be caused by stress, certain medications and nervous system disorders. Symptoms of bruxism include jaw tightness, popping/clicking in the joint and difficulty opening and closing the jaw. 


Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis may lead to jaw stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the joints. Osteoarthritis and usually affects people 65 and over. 

Relieving a Tight Jaw

TMJ stretches – These are stretches that can be done to improve the range of motion for the jaw joint

Dietary Changes – During TMJ stiffness, it may be necessary to switch to a softer food diet.

Night Guard – If the jaw stiffness is related to clenching or grinding, a mouth guard at night may be beneficial to alleviate stress on the joint.

Other treatments include hot and cold compresses, TMJ massage, corticosteroid injection, Botox injection, muscle relaxants and acupuncture. 

If you are experiencing tightness of the jaw, it is essential to see your doctor/dentist to diagnose the cause of the stiffness and recommend a treatment based on the cause. Try to prevent jaw stiffness by reducing stress, using a night guard for clenching/grinding and staying away from overly sticky foods such as toffee and gum.  Contact us to schedule your consultation today.

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