Your jaw is home to one of the most complex joints in your body. This joint—called the
temporomandibular joint, or TMJ—enables the jaw to chew, speak, move side to side, and
open and close. With so many functions, it’s no wonder some people experience tension in
Jaw tightness can range from mild to severe and be most painful when moving the jaw, such as
when chewing or speaking. In fact, some people experience such severe jaw tightness that they
feel the discomfort radiate throughout their face and neck.
But what exactly causes jaw tightness? The following are the most common causes of this
painful condition that may require professional treatment.
Bruxism, the technical term for teeth grinding, can cause the muscles in your jaw and face to
experience tension. Sometimes, this tension can cause headaches if left untreated.
Teeth grinding can have numerous causes, with the most common being stress and an
improper bite. When the upper and lower teeth don’t fit together correctly, it can make teeth
grinding more likely to occur.
If you’re grinding your teeth, you may be doing it at night while you sleep or during times of
stress and not realize it. Symptoms of teeth grinding include a sore jaw, unexplained
headaches, and aching teeth. Fortunately, you can protect your teeth from grinding—you may
need a nightly mouthguard, orthodontic treatment, or stress management to help stop this
When your temporomandibular joint doesn’t work correctly, it can put undue stress on the
surrounding muscles. This stress can cause pain and tightness in the jaw, and you may even
have ear pain, neck pain, or headaches as well.
TMJ disorders will need a professional diagnosis to be treated. Depending on what’s causing
your TMJ pain, you may be able to engage in stress management to help the problem go away.
For others—such as those whose TMJ pain is caused by an external factor such as a misaligned
bite—further treatment may be necessary.
Symptoms of a TMJ disorder include not being able to fully open your mouth, clicking noises
when moving the jaw, or general jaw pain even when the jaw is at rest.
If your teeth don’t properly align, your jaw won’t be able to function as well as it needs to. An
improper bite, such as an open bite, crossbite, underbite, or overbite, can cause uneven wear
on the teeth and strain on the jaw muscles.
Fortunately, most misaligned bites can be treated with simple orthodontic appliances. Your
dentist can normally tell if your bite is off and refer you to an orthodontist if necessary. Don’t
ignore an incorrect bite—a healthy bite can help reduce your jaw pain!
Are you experiencing uncomfortable jaw tightness and don’t know the cause? Your dentist can
help you determine what’s causing your pain and work with you to implement a successful
treatment plan to fix it. When jaw tightness is impacting your life, don’t wait to seek help!