There can be many causes of jaw pain and stiffness. A stressful situation can make you clench your teeth and jaws so tightly that you feel some residual soreness and stiffness afterwards, and a stressful lifestyle can find this to be a daily occurrence. A tooth that needs to come out can also cause jaw stiffness. But this kind of stiffness comes on suddenly or has a cause that you can pinpoint: your stressful boss, daily commute, or the habit of not brushing and flossing properly.
The kind of jaw stiffness and soreness associated with TMD is often an all-day-every-day dull ache that really hurts when you open your mouth. It can lead to headaches, sore neck and shoulders, even to upper back pain. And it won’t go away if you change jobs, ride the bus, or buy a new toothbrush.
How is TMD Connected to Jaw Stiffness?
TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) is caused by a misalignment of your jaw, which can be caused or exacerbated by a bad habit like jaw clenching, teeth grinding, or gum chewing. It causes the mandibular joint and its attached muscles to be out of whack and aggravated. You can aggravate the muscles around and attached to the joint by overworking them, clenching them tightly, or through other bad behaviors. This can cause jaw stiffness and soreness when you try to open your mouth, or when you open your mouth in a certain way. And as we said, TMD can lead to other painful conditions in your head, neck, shoulders, and back.
How Can You Relieve Jaw Stiffness?
TMD jaw pain and stiffness can best be relieved by a trip to a neuromuscular dentist. However, there are a few things you can try at home to gain some relief before you can get to your appointment.
- Pain medication: Since the jaw pain and stiffness associated with TMD is a joint and muscular problem, an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease some of the problem. Take as directed—this is not meant to be a long-term treatment.
- Heat and ice: Since you are dealing with muscular stiffness and possibly joint pain, ice and heat used alternatively can also help. Apply the cold for 10 minutes, then the heat for 10, and so on.
- Behavior changes: You can also try to be aware of your behaviors and practice some behavior modification on yourself. Always tense? Try some meditation or exercise to work out that stress. Chew gum like a cow chews her cud? Try mints instead—give your jaw muscles a break from all that chewing. The stiffness may ease up with just a day or two of not aggravating the muscles of your jaw. This also means eating softer foods and even those that can be sucked through a straw.
TMD jaw stiffness doesn’t have to be debilitating. With help from a neuromuscular dentist and some habit changes, you can send jaw pain and stiffness packing for good.