Read below about jaw stiffness, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your jaw stiffness 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 Stiffness Symptoms

Jaw stiffness is a very uncomfortable feeling that often affects essential movements such as eating and speaking. Considering these two movements often define the best parts of our day, this feeling can be understandably frustrating. [5]

Stiffness in the jaw may also be associated with symptoms such as:

  • Pain or tenderness. [8]
  • Swelling. [3]
  • Redness or warmth to the touch. [9]
  • Popping or clicking noises upon movement. [8]
  • A locking or catching sensation that makes it difficult to open the mouth. [8]
  • Difficulty or pain while chewing. [8]
  • Fever. [9]

If you notice stiffness in the jaw and any of these associated symptoms, make an appointment with your physician. Sometimes, without appropriate follow-up jaw stiffness can worsen to include more severe pain and other complications. [1,9]

Jaw Stiffness Causes Overview

Stiffness in the jaw usually happens due to inflammation or injury to the jaw's components. [1]

The components of the jaw include:

  • Bones: The upper jaw bone, or maxilla, is fixed and does not move. The lower jaw bone, or mandible, is the moveable part of the jaw. These bones are connected to each other via a hinge called the temporomandibular joint located right in front of the ear. [2]
  • Muscles: The muscles of the jaw facilitate chewing and other movements of the mouth. [2]
  • Nerves: The main nerves to the jaw and its components are the facial and trigeminal nerve. The facial nerve allows movement of the different facial muscles; it is very important for chewing. The trigeminal nerve provides sensation to the scalp and face. [2]
  • Teeth: It may seem obvious, but the teeth are often forgotten when thinking about the different components of the jaw. [2]

Dysfunction in the different components of the jaw can be classified under the umbrella term temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. Many different triggers are thought to cause this condition, so it is important to make an appointment with your physician in order to discuss causes and appropriate treatment. [3]

Inflammation-related causes:

  • Arthritis: Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness of the bones and joints. Though less common, arthritic processes can affect the parts of the jaw resulting in stiffness and difficulty moving the mouth, especially if arthritis affects the disc that help support jaw movements. [3]
  • Infection: Infections can cause inflammation in the different components of the jaw that lead to stiffness. An infection of the tooth that forms an abscess (a pus-filled pocket), can cause extreme stiffness, pain and discomfort along with a heavy sensation in the jaw. [1] Tetanus affects the entire nervous system and can result in excessive muscle contraction that affects the jaw muscles. This type of infection will cause stiffness not only in the jaw but also in other parts of the body such as the neck, abdomen and legs. Due to the tetanus vaccine, jaw stiffness in this context is rare. [4]

Trauma-related causes:

  • Direct injury to the jaw via a fall or punch to the face can result in stiffness via fractures or bruising or resultant swelling. [3]
  • Stiffness after trauma is difficult to recognize due to pain that accompanies traumatic injury; however, stiffness that lasts days or weeks after the event can signal an underlying issue. [5]
  • If you experience direct trauma to the jaw, seek emergency medical attention to assess for broken bones. [6]

Excess stimulation

  • The jaw is very much like other muscles and joints in the body that can become stiff and sore with overuse or excessive stimulation. [5]
  • Conditions that cause excessive movement or stimulation of the jaw - such as teeth grinding at night (bruxism) or jaw clenching in certain situations – can overwork the jaw and cause stiffness. [7]

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Jaw Stiffness

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced jaw stiffness. 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.Tooth Abscess (Infection)

    A tooth abscess is a collection of infected material (pus) in the center of a tooth. It is due to bacterial infection.

    Resolves after treatment

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    severe jaw or tooth pain, swollen jaw, jaw stiffness, tooth pain that gets worse with hot, cold, or sweet beverages, warm and red jaw swelling
    Symptoms that always occur with tooth abscess (infection):
    severe jaw or tooth pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  3. 3.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
  4. 4.Fibrous Dysplasia of Bone

    This is a genetic condition where part of a bone develops incorrectly using the wrong type of materials (fibrous instead of bony tissue), causing a weak area of bone that is prone to fractures. This process begins before birth, and the cause of the gene mutation is not fully known.

    This is a lifelong condition, as the fibrous tissue will continue to grow in the same area.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    spontaneous bone pain, groin pain, pain in one thigh, spontaneous hip pain, upper leg bump
    Symptoms that always occur with fibrous dysplasia of bone:
    spontaneous bone pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Jaw Stiffness Treatments and Relief

If you experience jaw stiffness, first try applying ice or heat to the area to provide relief. Putting an ice pack wrapped in a towel or heat pack on the stiff area every 15 to 20 minutes can help reduce inflammation, relax muscles and relieve pain and stiffness. [3,9]

Think about ways in which you overuse/overstimulate your jaw muscles and make lifestyle changes to prevent symptoms. [3]

For example:

  • Prevent teeth grinding: Wear a mouthguard or other device when possible, such as during sleep, the mouth to lessen irritation from repetitive actions such as teeth grinding. [3]
  • Notice unnecessary stress in the jaw muscles: Some people will (knowingly or unknowingly) bite down or clench the jaw in situations of stress or anger. With mindfulness, this detrimental habit can be prevented and resolve your jaw stiffness and its associated symptoms. [3]
  • Lessen chewing and overuse: Eating softer, less sticky foods can go a long way in helping you combat your jaw stiffness symptoms. Also try to cut food into smaller pieces to lessen the amount of effort you need to chew and digest your food. [3]

However, if ice/heat packs and lifestyle changes do not help your jaw stiffness and your symptoms persist, seek medical attention. [3]

Your physician may suggest:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication: If your jaw stiffness is due to inflammatory conditions, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat an infection or anti-inflammatory medications to treat arthritic conditions. Sometimes these medications can be in the form of injections. [9,10]
  • Surgery: When all of the above methods do not work in relieving your symptoms, your physician may suggest surgical intervention to treat your recurrent jaw stiffness. [11]

If you experience jaw stiffness in the context of a puncture wound such as from a rusty nail, go to the emergency room immediately, especially if you are unsure of your tetanus vaccination status. [4]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Jaw Stiffness

  • Q.Has your dentist or significant other ever told you that you grind your teeth in your sleep?
  • Q.Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.About your ear, do you feel a warm or fluid sensation in your ear?

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

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Jaw Stiffness Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced jaw stiffness have also experienced:

    • 8% Jaw Pain
    • 5% Headache
    • 4% Stiff Neck
  • People who have experienced jaw stiffness had symptoms persist for:

    • 28% Over a Month
    • 27% Less Than a Day
    • 27% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced jaw stiffness were most often matched with:

    • 50% Malignant Hyperthermia
    • 28% Tooth Abscess (Infection)
    • 21% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
  • 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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References

  1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link.
  2. Ghatak RN, Ginglen JG. Anatomy, Head and Neck, Mandibular Nerve. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2018. NCBI Link.
  3. Husney A, Romito K, eds. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): Topic Overview. PeaceHealth. Updated March 27, 2018. PeaceHealth Link.
  4. Tetanus (Lockjaw). Minnesota Department of Health. Published August 2016. Minnesota Department of Health Link.
  5. Husney A, Romito K, eds. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): What Happens. PeaceHealth. Updated March 27, 2018. PeaceHealth Link.
  6. When to Go to the ER. UnitedRegional Physician Group. UR Physician Group.
  7. Husney A, Romito K, eds. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): Cause. PeaceHealth. Updated March 27, 2018. PeaceHealth Link.
  8. Husney A, Romito K, eds. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): Symptoms. PeaceHealth. Updated March 27, 2018. PeaceHealth Link.
  9. Freeman G. Inflammation and Stiffness: The Hallmarks of Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Link.
  10. Husney A, Romito K, eds. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): Medications. PeaceHealth. Updated March 27, 2018. PeaceHealth Link.
  11. Husney A, Romito K, eds. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD): Surgery. PeaceHealth. Updated March 27, 2018. PeaceHealth Link.