- Your Jaw Stiffness May Also be Known as:
- Can't close my mouth
- Hard to bend head
- Hard to bend jaw
- Hard to move head
- Hard to move jaw
- Hard to move mouth
- Head stiffness
- Head tightness
- Jaw tightness
Jaw Stiffness Symptoms
Jaw stiffness is a very uncomfortable feeling that often affects essential movements such as eating and speaking.
Stiffness in the jaw may also be associated with symptoms such as:
- Pain or tenderness
- Redness or warmth to the touch
- Popping or clicking noises upon movement
- A locking or catching sensation that makes it difficult to open the mouth
- Difficulty or pain while chewing
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.
Jaw Stiffness Causes Overview
Stiffness in the jaw usually happens due to inflammation or injury to the jaw's components.
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.
- Muscles: The muscles of the jaw facilitate chewing and other movements of the mouth.
- 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.
- Teeth: It may seem obvious, but the teeth are often forgotten when thinking about the different components of the jaw.
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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- Direct injury to the jaw via a fall or punch to the face can result in stiffness via fractures or bruising or resultant swelling.
- Stiffness after trauma is difficult to recognize due to pain that accompanies traumatic injury; however, stiffness days or weeks after the event can signal an underlying issue.
- If you experience direct trauma to the jaw, seek emergency medical attention to assess for broken bones.
- The jaw is very much like other muscles and joints in the body that can become stiff and sore with overuse or excessive stimulation.
- 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.
Top 3 Jaw Stiffness Causes
1.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.
You should seek immediate medical care at an ER, where diagnosis is made based on your history, a blood test, and an x-ray of the mouth. If the abscess is affecting your breathing, this is a medical emergency! Treatment involves incision and drainage of the abscess with antibiotics.
- 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
- Primary care doctor
Jaw Stiffness Checker
Take a quiz to find out why you’re having jaw stiffness.Take a quiz
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.
Call 911 for an ambulance now. This is a life-threatening condition that needs to be treated at the hospital.
- Top Symptoms:
- being severely ill, shortness of breath, severe fever, dark brown urine, muscle stiffness/rigidity
- Symptoms that always occur with malignant hyperthermia:
- being severely ill
- Emergency medical service
3.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.
You should visit your primary care physician who will confirm the diagnosis with X-Ray. Surgical treatment is often necessary to stabilize the bone.
- Top Symptoms:
- spontaneous hip pain, spontaneous bone pain, pain in one thigh, lump below the skin on the chest
- Symptoms that always occur with fibrous dysplasia of bone:
- lump below the skin on the chest, spontaneous bone pain
- 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 – 20 minutes can help reduce inflammation, relax muscles and relieve pain and stiffness.
Think about ways in which you overuse/overstimulate your jaw muscles and make lifestyle changes to prevent symptoms.
- Prevent teeth grinding: Wear a mouth guard or other device in the mouth to lessen irritation from repetitive actions such as teeth grinding.
- Notice unnecessary stress in the jaw muscles: Some people will (knowingly or unknowingly) bite down or clench the jaw in situation of stress or anger. With mindfulness, this detrimental habit can be prevented and resolve your jaw stiffness and its associated symptoms.
- 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.
However, if ice/heat packs and lifestyle changes do not help your jaw stiffness and your symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
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.
- 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.
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.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Jaw Stiffness
- Q.How severe is your jaw stiffness?
- Q.Is your jaw stiffness constant or come-and-go?
- Q.How long has your jaw stiffness been going on?
- Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our jaw stiffness symptom checker.Take a quiz
Jaw Stiffness Symptom Checker Statistics
People who have experienced jaw stiffness have also experienced:
- 5% Nausea
- 4% Tight, Heavy, Squeezing Chest Pain
- 4% Headache
People who have experienced jaw stiffness had symptoms persist for:
- 33% Less Than a Day
- 28% Over a Month
- 22% Less Than a Week
Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).