Symptoms A-Z

Jaw Spasms Symptoms, Causes & Statistics

Understand your jaw spasms symptoms with Buoy, including 4 causes and common questions concerning your jaw spasms.

An image depicting a person suffering from jaw spasms symptoms

Jaw Spasms Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you're having jaw spasms


  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 4 Possible Jaw Spasms Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Statistics
  7. References

Jaw Spasms Symptoms

A jaw spasm can be a painful and distressing symptom to experience. It happens when some of the muscles in your jaw tighten up and don't want to relax. [12]

The basic explanation is that there has been damage to, or interference with, your facial nerves or muscles. There are many conditions that can cause this damage and make your jaw muscles lock up, and it can sometimes take a little detective work on the part of your medical provider to pin down the exact cause. [12]

Jaw spasm is also known as trismus, which means you are unable to completely open your mouth. The general term "lockjaw" is sometimes used for trismus, though in most cases lockjaw refers only to the bacterial illness called tetanus. [5,19]

Other names for jaw spasm are jaw dystonia and oromandibular dystonia, which literally mean "incorrect muscle tone in the mouth and jaw." Any jaw pain or difficulty with the joint may be called temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ or TMJD. [8,18]


  • Pain, stiffness, and discomfort in one or both sides of your jaw and/or face. [8]
  • Finding it difficult or impossible to open your mouth completely. [8,12]
  • Trouble speaking, since your mouth cannot open and close properly. [12]
  • Great difficulty with eating solid food, since chewing is all but impossible. [8,12]
  • You may have problems with focusing your vision. [20]
  • You may have earache and some degree of hearing loss. [21]


  • Some cases of jaw spasm do clear up spontaneously. [12]
  • However, many cases become chronic and interfere with activities of daily living if not treated. [12]

Who is most often affected by jaw spasms?

  • People are not usually affected until they are over the age of 40 or so. [22]
  • Women are diagnosed with jaw spasms and TMJD more often than men. [22]

Are jaw spasms serious?

  • Some cases are mild and temporary after a procedure such as oral surgery, and the symptoms clear up on their own. [23]
  • Other cases may start to interfere with speaking or chewing and begin to affect activities of daily living. [12,23]
  • Jaw spasms are not dangerous in themselves, but if the symptoms become severe and ongoing they can make a significant impact on your quality of life. The condition may cause you to avoid work, exercise, and social gatherings. Treatment to ease discomfort and manage the stress of your condition is almost always recommended. [24]

Jaw Spasms Causes

Many conditions can have jaw spasm as a symptom. The most common are those involving dental or infectious causes, as well as trauma from injury or surgery. [1,2]

Disease causes:

  • Abscesses, or pockets of infection, in the tissues of your mouth and/or throat. [2]
  • Systemic bacterial infection. [5]
  • Degenerative diseases of the TMJ. [6]
  • Seizure. [7]
  • Stroke. [8]
  • In rare cases, tumors of the mouth or jaw. [9]

Dental causes:

  • Damage from needles used in your inner cheek muscles, as with those used for dental anesthesia (Novocain injections.) [5]
  • Damage to your jaw from oral surgery, such as molar extraction. [5]

Traumatic causes:

  • Fractures of your jaw. [5]
  • Dislocations of your jaw. [1]
  • Foreign body in the muscles of your jaw, such as debris from falling down or being in an automobile accident. [11]
  • Damage from surgery to your head, neck, or face, especially to your temporomandibular joint (TMJ.) [12]
  • Damage to your jaw structure from intubation during surgery or other lifesaving procedures. [13]
  • Damage to your jaw from pressure caused by a poorly fitted scuba gear mouthpiece. [14]

Medication causes:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants. [15]
  • Phenothiazine medications, used as anti-psychotics. [16]
  • Some chemotherapy drugs. [17]
  • Some types of radiation therapy. [17]
  • Some illicit stimulant drugs. [18]

4 Possible Jaw Spasms Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced jaw spasms. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck

Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder: pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Low calcium level

Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Jaw Spasms Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you're having jaw spasms

Myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is also called chronic myofascial pain (CMP.) Pressure on certain points of the muscles causes referred pain, meaning the pain is felt elsewhere in the body.

The cause is believed to be muscle injury through overuse, either from sports or from a job requiring repetitive motion. Tension, stress, and poor posture can also cause habitual tightening of the muscles, a form of overuse.

This overuse causes scar tissue, or adhesions, to form in the muscles. These points are known as trigger points, since they trigger pain at any stimulus.

Symptoms include deep, aching muscular pain that does not go away with rest or massage, but may actually worsen. There is often difficulty sleeping due to pain.

Myofascial pain syndrome should be seen by a medical provider, since it can develop into a similar but more severe condition called fibromyalgia.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and applying mild pressure to locate the trigger points.

Treatment involves physical therapy, pain medications, and trigger point injections. In some cases, acupuncture and antidepressants are helpful.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, tender muscle knot, general numbness

Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome: tender muscle knot

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Malignant hyperthermia

Malignant hyperthermia is a genetic condition (runs in families) that results in a severe reaction to anesthesia. The reaction is caused by genetic abnormalities in proteins that control muscle function.

Symptoms include(, very high body temperature, increased blood acidity, rapid breathing, a faster heart rate and abnormal heart rhythm, degeneration of muscle fibers, and high blood potassium.

Treatments include medication and measures to alleviate symptoms, such as lowering body temperature. Those with this condition are advised to wear a medical I.D. bracelet to avoid complications caused by anesthesia in emergency situations.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: being severely ill, shortness of breath, dark brown urine, severe fever, muscle stiffness/rigidity

Symptoms that always occur with malignant hyperthermia: being severely ill

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Jaw Spasms Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if you are experiencing severe stiffness and locking of the jaw muscles, with stiff neck, inability to swallow, and painful, wracking spasms of the body. These can be symptoms of tetanus. [19]

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Milder symptoms of jaw stiffness, pain, and discomfort. Your medical provider may be able to provide muscle relaxants and physical therapy. [26]
  • These milder symptoms might also respond to acupuncture, Botox injections, and stress management. Even though jaw spasms are not psychological, a counselor can often help with managing and living with this condition. [26]

Remedies you can try at home:

  • Heat treatment, with hot compresses or a warming pad. [26]
  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen. [26]
  • Eating only soft or liquid foods for a while. [26]
  • Keeping up with any jaw-stretching exercises that you are given. [26]

FAQs About Jaw Spasms

Here are some frequently asked questions about jaw spasms.

What does a jaw spasm feel like?

Jaw spasms are involuntary and repetitive movements of the jaw-closing muscles that can be accompanied by electric shock-like pain. [27]

Can jaw spasms cause you to bite your tongue?

Yes, jaw spasms can definitely cause you to bite your tongue. [24]

Can TMJ disorders cause jaw spasms?

Yes, temporomandibular joint disorders, or TMJ disorders can cause jaw spasms. An unstable joint from TMJ dysfunction causes increased strain and tension to the muscles responsible for talking, chewing, swallowing, yawning, and other movements. As a result, the muscles can become excessively fatigued and become more susceptible to spasms. [28]

Why do I have jaw spasms while sleeping?

Jaw spasms occurring at night are likely related to grinding your teeth at night, a condition known as bruxism. Grinding your teeth increases the strain on your facial muscles, increasing the likelihood of developing jaw spasms. [28]

Can stress cause jaw spasms?

Yes, stress is a major cause of teeth grinding, which is a known risk factor for increasing the likelihood of developing jaw spasm. [28]

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out why you're having jaw spasms

Jaw Spasms Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced jaw spasms have also experienced:

  • 6% Jaw Pain
  • 4% Muscle Aches
  • 4% Involuntary Movements

People who have experienced jaw spasms were most often matched with:

  • 40% Low Calcium Level
  • 30% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
  • 30% Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Jaw Spasms Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you're having jaw spasms


  1. Roberts G, Scully C, Shotts R. Dental Emergencies. Western Journal of Medicine. 2001;175(1):51-54. NCBI Link.
  2. Mari Z, Rosenthal LS, Darwin KC, Hallett M, Jinnah HA. Clinical Reasoning: A 57-Year-Old Man with Jaw Spasms. Neurology. 2013;80(10):e104-e107. NCBI Link.
  3. Osteomyelitis. BetterHealth Channel. Updated August 2013. BetterHealth Channel Link.
  4. Trismus. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. St. Jude Link.
  5. Auluck A. How Do I Manage a Patient with Trismus? Published May 16, 2016. Link.
  6. Sodhi A, Naik S, Pai A, Anuradha A. Rheumatoid Arthritis Affecting Temporomandibular Joint. Contemporary Clinical Dentistry. 2015;6(1):124-127. NCBI Link.
  7. Types and Symptoms - Epilepsey 101. Epilepsy Foundation Metropolitan New York. EFMNY Link.
  8. Akin A, Yilmaz R, Selcuk F, Cenk Akbostanci M. Sudden Onset of Oromandibular Dystonia After Cerebellar Stroke. Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements. 2014;4:262. NCBI Link.
  9. Head and Neck Cancer. MedStar Washington Hospital Center. MedStar Washington Hospital Center Link.
  10. Blepharospasm. Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. Published 2015. DMRF Link.
  11. Kim YJ, Park JY, Choi KY, Moon BJ, Lee JK. Case Reports About An Overlooked Cause of Neck Pain: Calcific Tendinitis of the Longus Colli. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017;96(46):e8343. NCBI Link.
  12. Husney A, Gabica MJ, Romito K, eds. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD). University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated May 7, 2017. Michigan Medicine Link.
  13. Martin MD, Wilson KJ, Ross BK, Souter K. Intubation Risk Factors for Temporomandibular Joint/Facial Pain. Anesthesia Progress. 2007;54(3):109-114. NCBI Link.
  14. Robbs M. Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction in Diving. AlertDiver. Published January 13, 2017. AlertDiver Link.
  15. RxISK Medical Team. Side Effects of Antidepressants. RxISK. Updated 2016. RxISK Link.
  16. Phenothiazine (Oral Route, Parenteral Route, Rectal Route). Mayo Clinic. Updated March 1, 2017. Mayo Clinic Link.
  17. Jaw Problems (Osteonecrosis) and Cancer Treatment. Cancer Research UK. Updated June 13, 2017. Cancer Research UK Link.
  18. Katz S. Dental Side Effects of Stimulants. Published May 9, 2017. Link.
  19. Tetanus. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published December 2014. Harvard Health Publishing Link.
  20. Tinnitus and Disorders of the Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ) and Neck. British Tinnitus Association. British Tinnitus Association Link.
  21. Sheldon CA, White VA, Holland SP. Giant Cell Arteritis Presenting with Bilateral Loss of Vision and Jaw Pain: Reminder of a Potentially Devastating Condition. Published April 28, 2011. Link.
  22. Yadav S, Yang Y, Dutra EH, Robinson JL, Wadhwa S. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Older Adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2018;66(6):1213-1217. NCBI Link.
  23. Dolatabadi MA, Lassemi E. Trauma to the Temporomandibular Joint Following Tooth Extraction Via Dental Students. Trauma Monthly. 2012;16(4):205. NCBI Link.
  24. Husney A, Gabica MJ, Romito K. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): What Happens. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated May 7, 2017. UofM Health Link.
  25. Husney A, Gabica MJ, Romito K. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): Treatment Overview. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated May 7, 2017. UofM Health Link.
  26. Husney A, Gabica MJ, Romito K. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): Home Treatment. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated May 7, 2017. UofM Health Link.
  27. Husney A, Gabica MJ, Romito K. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): Symptoms. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated May 7, 2017. UofM Health Link.
  28. You May Suffer From TMJ Syndrome and Not Even Realise It. Massage Sense. Published October 31, 2014. Massage Sense Link.