Do you suddenly suffer from a tight jaw that seems to have come out of nowhere? Discover what causes your jaw to tighten and how to relieve the pain now.

A feeling of tightness in your jaw may creep up on you, or you may wake up one morning with a sore jaw and the sense that something just isn’t right. A tight jaw can cause problems in other parts of your body, too.

You may also experience headaches, neck pain or a bad toothache. We’ll take a look at the common causes of a tight jaw and some things you can do to relieve the pain.


Stress and anxiety are among the most common causes of a tight jaw. When we’re under stress, we often clench our jaw and tighten up our neck muscles. Some people grind their teeth. They might do it while they’re sleeping or even unconsciously during the day.

Grinding your teeth can cause that tightness in your jaw. It can also cause headaches and earaches. If teeth grinding is to blame for your tight jaw, ask your dentist about a mouth guard to wear at night.

If stress is the culprit, you might explore the following remedies:

  • Exercise
  • Reducing intake of alcohol, drugs, and caffeine
  • Nutrition
  • Relaxation and breathing techniques

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJD)

TMJD causes pain and tightness in the jaw and the muscles that surround it. It can also cause an aching or throbbing pain near the ear and face.

Chewing food may make the pain worse. Chewing may also produce a clicking sound or grinding sensation. Have you heard your jaw pop? TMJD may be the culprit.

TMJD can be caused by a number of things, including genetics, arthritis or even a jaw injury. Fortunately, the pain and discomfort associated with TMJD is temporary in most cases.

Talk to your doctor or dentist if you suspect TMJD. The doctor may recommend the following tests:

  • Dental X-rays
  • CT scan to provide more detailed images
  • MRI to examine the joint’s disk and surrounding soft tissue

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, a mouth guard or physical therapy to address the problem.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Can Cause a Tight Jaw

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disorder. It affects muscles and joints throughout the body. Up to 80 percent of people with RA also experience tightness or pain in their jaw.

Your doctor will need to run tests to make a diagnosis of RA. It can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription steroids or in some cases, surgery.

It’s important to seek a formal diagnosis of RA because it can damage the jaw joint and surrounding tissues. It can also cause bone loss in the jaw.

Final Thoughts

You may find exercise is helpful in relieving the pain and discomfort associated with a tight jaw.  A “smile stretch” can loosen up the muscles in your jaw.

Smile the widest you can without pain. While you’re smiling, open your mouth two more inches. Inhale through your mouth, then exhale while releasing your smile. Repeat up to 10 times.

You might also try a warm compress applied to your jaw at the first sign of tightness. As with any medical issue, always check with your doctor first before beginning any treatment.

Need more health tips? Keep reading our blog.

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