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.

10 Potential Jaw Spasms Causes

  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.Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)

    Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal.

    7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, ear canal pain, ear fullness/pressure, jaw pain, ear pain that gets worse when moving
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    Most recover within 1 week but cough and malaise can persist for 2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  5. 5.Lyme Disease

    Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of a tick, which needs to latch on for a few days to transmit the bacteria. This infection can affect the skin, but more dangerously, the nervous system.

    If treated properly, people are typically cured but may have symptoms for a few months even without signs of an actual infection.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, irritability, muscle aches, loss of appetite
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  6. 6.Dental Cavity

    Dental cavities are bacterial infections of the tooth. The bacteria produce acid that breaks down the tooth.

    1 day with proper treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dry mouth, toothache, tooth pain that makes chewing difficult, pain in the top row of teeth, tooth pain that gets worse with hot, cold, or sweet beverages
    Symptoms that never occur with dental cavity:
    spontanenous tooth pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Viral (Rotavirus) Infection

    Rotavirus is a virus that causes an infection of the gut, known as gastroenteritis. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and fever. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    Symptoms resolve on their own within a few days.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (rotavirus) infection:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (rotavirus) infection:
    constipation, tarry stool
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Viral (Norovirus) Infection

    Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that leads to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. These viruses cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    Usually resolves within 2-3 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    severe abdominal pain, throbbing headache, severe headache, tarry stool, vaginal bleeding, alertness level change
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  9. 9.Mononucleosis Infection

    EBV Mononucleosis is a clinical syndrome characterized by fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes.

    2-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, abdominal pain (stomach ache), cough
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when they're sick collect excess mucus and can become infected. When your symptoms are persisting for 10 days or more or are getting worse over time, it's more likely that you'll have a bacterial infection as compared to a viral infection.

    7-15 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    clear runny nose, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Jaw Spasms

  • Q.Just before your symptoms started, did you:
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Have you been experiencing dizziness?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our jaw spasms symptom checker to find out more.

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Jaw Spasms Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced jaw spasms have also experienced:

    • 7% Jaw Pain
    • 4% Involuntary Movements
    • 4% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced jaw spasms were most often matched with:

    • 13% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
    • 5% Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)
    • 4% Fibromyalgia
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

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