Tight Jaw: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatments

Millions of people around the world are affected by stiff jaw or suffer from popping, tenderness, and popping in the neck or the face. The most frequently reported cause of a tight jaw is TMJ or TemporoMandibular Joint Disorder. More than ten in every hundred people suffer from jaw stiffness, and half of them visit a medical professional for treatment. Women in their twenties and thirties form the most standard demographic for TMJ. The term TMJ necessarily indicates various types of TemporoMandibular disorders; all of which are associated with the muscles used for moving the jaws, for instance, talking, laughing, chewing, kissing, etc.

What is the reason behind the condition?

Both relaxation and contraction of the muscles are responsible for the movement of the mandible, i.e., lower jaw. When someone is talking or eating, the maxilla or the upper jaw attached to the human skull does not move, and only the lower jaw or the mandible makes movements. Just like other muscles in the body, these jaw muscles can also become sensitive and stiff at times, negatively influence the motion of the mandible and can even put pressure to the jaw joint (TMJ).

The following four muscles of mastication, also called the chewing muscles, control the movement of the lower jaw.

  • Masseter: Each side is having one and is known as the cheek muscle.
  • Temporalis: Each side has one and can be found on the temples of one’s head.
  • Medial Pterygoid: It is situated deep inside the cheek and is also called the Internal Pterygoid.
  • Lateral Pterygoid: It is located on top of the Medial Pterygoid and is also called the External Pterygoid.

tight jaw

Causes

  1. TemporoMandibular Joint Disorders: It can render pain to the jaw joint, i.e., TemporoMandibular joint and also to the muscles that surround it. TMJ can effectuate locking or discomfort in both or any one of the hinge joints situated between the temporal bone and the lower jaw. Throbbing or aching pain and experiencing tenderness near or in the ear, face, and jaw are also triggered by TMJ. Chewing can increase the intensity of the pain and may also generate a grinding feeling or clicking noise. TMJ pain is usually impermanent and adequate care in the home may resolve this condition.
  2. Stress: Anxiety and stress can make one accidentally clench the jaw or grind the teeth in sleep. A Person can also hold a clenched jaw while awake and without having the faintest idea about it. These can make one experience tight jaw and sensation of pain in sleep and also when awake. Talking or eating may worsen the severity of the pain. Stress can also induce other symptoms including tension headaches.
  3. Bruxism or Teeth Grinding: Clenching of teeth need not always get triggered by stress. Genetics or dental issues like improperly aligned teeth can also cause it. Bruxism may happen in sleep or when awake and without possessing the slightest notion about it.
  4. Excessive Amount Of Chewing: Chewing gum or anything chewable may cause tightness in the mandible.
  5. RA or Rheumatoid Arthritis: It is an autoimmune inflammatory disease, which affects all the joints and the muscles in the human body. As much as eight in every ten persons suffer from RA accompanied by TMJ. RA can cause damage to the jaw joint and the tissues that surround it, and can even lead to loss of jaw bone.
  6. Osteoarthritis: Though typically not common, osteoarthritis can occur inside the TemporoMandibular joints and trigger deterioration and cessation of the works of the jaw bone. It eventually ends up leading to a tight and painful jaw and also radiating pain in the affected area.
  7. Tetanus: If not treated early, this potentially life-threatening bacterial infection causes lockjaw. Typical symptoms include difficulty in swallowing, stiff abdomen, and painful contractions of neck and jaw muscles. The tetanus vaccine provides ample protection against this disease.

There are also numerous different causes that do not affect the jaw muscles but does hurt the jaw bone, other bodily structures in close proximity, or the joint. There may be illnesses that have an adverse impact on the muscles throughout the body and do not affect the jaw muscle directly or passively.

  • Fractured bone, jaw or cheek
  • Infection in tooth, jawbone, or gums
  • TMJ complications
  • Mumps
  • Dental abscess
  • Shingles
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Parotid gland illnesses
  • Ill fitted dentures
  • Trigeminal neuralgia

tight jaw

Symptoms

  • Facial pain that becomes worse during the usage of the jaw
  • Tenderness in the joint and muscle
  • Reduced mobility of the jaw
  • Problems associated with the alignment of the jaw
  • Popping or clicking noise at the time of opening or closing the jaw
  • Tinnitus
  • Aching in the ears
  • Headaches with or without earaches and experiencing pressure on one’s temples on the head
  • Dizzying
  • Lockjaw
  • Blunt aches to intense stabbing pain
  • Hypersensitivity to pain
  • Vertigo
  • Toothache
  • Tension headaches
  • nerve-related pain like burning
  • Fever
  • Swelling of the face
  • Other signs may exist, and these will be decided by the causative condition of the jaw pain.

Treatment

The nature of the treatment is decided by the underlying condition that is causing the stiffness. Some of the widely used treatment procedures can include:

  • Muscle relaxants for reducing the muscular tension
  • Painkillers for soothing the pain
  • Botox or Botulinum Toxin in case of severe spasm
  • Mouth guards to decrease teeth grinding
  • Antibiotics and antitoxin for treating Tetanus
  • Sedatives in case of severe seizure in the muscles as in Tetanus

At times, surgery may be necessary, and the method will be determined by the causative condition, the degree of the severity of the illness, and the patient’s response to medical care. It is advised to visit the dentist if the general practitioner is unable to diagnose any problem. Occasionally, stiff or sore jaw muscles potentially indicate an inherent dental problem.

When To Visit A Registered Medical Practitioner?

  • When home remedies (consuming soft food for sometimes, applying hot or cold, massaging the muscles, popping over the counter pills and avoiding stress) are ineffective
  • When the jaw pain makes it difficult to continue with one’s daily work
  • Experiencing an irregularity in the movement of the jaw
  • When the jaw joint movements are noisy
  • When there are additional symptoms of neck pain, headaches, and upper back pain, tinnitus, or pain in one’s temples on the head, etc.
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