Read below about jaw spasms, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your jaw spasms from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Characteristics:

Duration:

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

Who is most often affected by jaw spasms?

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

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.
  • Other cases may start to interfere with speaking or chewing and begin to affect activities of daily living.
  • 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.

Jaw Spasms Causes Overview

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.

Disease causes:

  • Abscesses, or pockets of infection, in the tissues of your mouth and/or throat.
  • Systemic bacterial infection.
  • Degenerative diseases of the TMJ.
  • Seizure.
  • Stroke.
  • In rare cases, tumors of the mouth or jaw.

Dental causes:

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

Traumatic causes:

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

Medication causes:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants.
  • Phenothiazine medications, used as anti-psychotics.
  • Some chemotherapy drugs.
  • Some types of radiation therapy.
  • Some illicit stimulant drugs.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Jaw Spasms

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced jaw spasms. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    Outcome is highly case-dependent.

    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
  2. 2.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.

    Problem should go away with home care within weeks.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Jaw Spasms Checker

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  3. 3.Myofascial Pain Syndrome

    Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic musculoskeletal syndrome caused by trigger points within muscle. Pressure on these points causes pain in the area around the point as well as in other body parts, a phenomenon known as referred pain.

    Resolution of pain is dependent on type of treatment.

    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
  4. 4.Malignant Hyperthermia

    Malignant hyperthermia is a rare life-threatening condition usually triggered by drugs like general anesthesia. In certain individuals, these drugs can cause a drastic increase in carbon dioxide, decrease in body temperature, muscle rigidity and ultimately death if not immediately treated.

    Treatment in the ICU lasts for at least 36 hours until you are stable

    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.

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.
  • 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.

Remedies you can try at home:

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

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.

Can jaw spasms cause you to bite your tongue?

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

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.

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.

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.

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”).

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