Jaw Tension Other Areas Symptoms Causes Prevention Treatment TMJ
Last updated 04/01/2022
My dentist told me years ago that I grind my teeth at night. Occasionally I find myself clenching my teeth in situations. As a result I suffer with joint soreness wondering of other issues with jaw tension.
So I looked into causes for jaw tension. Along with other areas the pain could manifest. Most importantly is how to go about managing this.
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What is the Temporomandibular Joint?
First off let’s glance at this joint. You use your Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) for many activities. This sliding hinge connects your lower jawline to your skull. Thus your TMJ moves every time you talk or chew.
The TMJ is located just in front of your ear. You have one on each side of the face. Your jaw slides and rotates including it with the most complex joints in the body. Above all this joint is mainly a circular protrusion of the mandible and sits just inside an indention in the skull.
But there is also a disc-like structure consisting of soft bone called cartilage located between the two bones (articular disc).
11 Causes of Jaw Tension
TMJ disorders (aka temporomandibular joint dysfunction and temporomandibular joint syndrome) occur after something happens with your jaw joints and jaw muscles. Like I mentioned earlier about grinding my teeth and stress add these. But don’t diagnose yourself because there could be underlying causes.
Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)
Teeth grinding can be due to stress, genetics or dental problems like misaligned teeth. It can happen while you are sleeping. However teeth grinding can occur when you’re awake even if you’re not consciously aware.
Bruxism can lead to tightness or feelings of soreness in the face, neck also upper or lower jaw. As a result, you can have headaches or earaches as well.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders
Temporomandibular joint disorders (aka TMJ, TMD or TMJD) leads to pain in the jaw joint and muscles around it. This can cause pain or “locking in” one or both of your hinge joints. In other words, you can find these joints between your lower jaw and the temporal bone.
It can cause this aching or throbbing pain with some tenderness in or near the ear, jaw and face. Chewing food can increase pain, create a clicking sound or grinding sensation. However, the pain of TMJ can be temporary and could be treated with home remedies.
Since the sinuses are so close to your jaw they can contribute to the pain. These air filled cavities can become infected with a virus or bacterium. As a result excess mucus puts pressure on your jaw joint.
A severe tooth infection also called an abscess sometimes can radiate pain to your jawline. Thus the importance of keeping up with your dental visits.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition usually caused by nerve compression on the trigeminal nerve. Most importantly this nerve gives sensation to a large part of your face along with the upper and lower jaws.
Certainly we can and can’t (vicious circle) blame everything on stress. It is important to rule out other, more serious possibilities. Although it is not labeled as a medical emergency, I can vouch for the pain.
Pain from a heart attack can travel to other locations in the body. This includes not only your chest but could be the arms, back, neck and jaw. Women especially can experience jaw pain on their left side during a heart attack. Above all contact 911 immediately to be taken to the hospital if you are having the following symptoms:
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder causing inflammation. It involves muscles and joints in other body areas. According to the National Institutes of Health 80% of those having RA also has TMJ. Not only does RA damage the jaw joint and its tissues there can be bone loss also.
It is rare but there is a possibility for osteoarthritis to develop in the temporomandibular joints. Furthermore this can lead to deterioration along with loss of function in the jaw bone, cartilage and tissue. As a result radiating pain is felt in the area around.
Tetanus (aka lockjaw) is caused by a fatal bacterial infection affecting the nerves. It is very serious with painful muscle spasms. The symptoms are difficulty swallowing as well as jaw and neck muscle contractions. But you can prevent this by getting the tetanus vaccine (Tdap) which has reduced this incidence in the United States.
Other Body Areas Affected
Tightening your jaw can lead to all sorts of pain or discomfort. Let’s look at how this goes beyond the mouth.
In addition, the degree of pain can vary, describing it as achy, throbbing, tender or severe. Furthermore, chewing or yawning can make these feelings worse. The exact location of this pain can also differ. So, you could feel sensations on one or both sides of your face, jaw, nose, mouth or ears.
Where Jaw Tension can Lead
The jaw tension can make chewing difficult and cause more pain. But it can also link to discomfort of your neck, shoulders, hips and lower back.
Because the musculoskeletal system is so interconnected the body opposite side will over compensate. For example soft tissue from one area gets tight your opposite side will begin to stretch too much and weaken (have you ever had this situation?). As a result the weaker side is more likely to develop an injury.
Your mind and body also work closely together. You know if you deal with constant daily life stressors you eventually start to feel it as aches and pains in your body. In short your brain releases stress hormones the flight or fight response as we know it.
This causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. When these two vitals get higher you can feel your muscles tighten as well. Therefore if your muscles would stay in a contracted state and shorten, pain will begin.
In addition, as you live with chronic pain your body starts to process it differently. Overtime the chronic pain can have an impact on your mind to body communication. Above all managing these symptoms while they are acute can help support a more enjoyable quality of life.
Having TMJ may make basic oral hygiene uncomfortable. This could be brushing your teeth, flossing and your dental visits. The TMJ Association suggests some tips for reducing pain such as using cotton balls to floss (by wiping across teeth). You can discuss this with your dental team to keep your pearly whites and gums healthy.
How do you Reduce Jaw Tension?
Do the stretches while you are relaxed and not with tense muscles or when you have severe pain. If pain gets worse consult your doctor.
There are some helpful stretches that can decrease this jaw tension. Check with your doctor first for your situation. Along with any new physical routine begin slowly.
Place your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth behind upper teeth. Let your jaws slowly separate while relaxing your muscles.
Hold your shoulders back with chest up. Tuck your chin to your chest (creating double chin) and hold position for three seconds.
Side to Side Jaw Movement
As you hold a ¼ inch object (tongue depressors) between your front teeth slowly move your jaw side to side.
Forward Jaw Movement
Likewise with this ¼ inch object between your teeth now move your bottom jaw forward. So this places your bottom teeth before your top teeth.
Treatments for Jaw Tension
Massaging your jaw provides some relief. This encourages blood flow and reduces the tightness of the muscles. More importantly try this by opening your mouth gently use circular motions in front of your ear on the joint.
This is the location where your temporomandibular joints are. In short do this several times a day along with just before bed.
- Botox injection
- Apply hot or cold compresses on your jaw (I have my ice roller)
Prevention for Jaw Tension
Practicing stress relief methods can help prevent further jaw pain. Overusing your jaw and excessive chewing could be avoided.
Eating soft foods that aren’t sticky and not eating foods like:
- Beef jerky
- Raw carrots
- Chewing ice
Wrapping it up
There are a number of causes for jaw tension such as bruxism, TMJ and stress. Mouth stretches can be done to relieve tightness and pain. In addition, prevention includes behavior modifications like eating soft foods and limiting gum chewing.
Have you ever tried to open a bottle with your teeth?
Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.