A tight jaw can happen for many reasons, such as stress, temporomandibular joint disorders, grinding the teeth at night, and tetanus, among others.

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Jaw tightness may cause pain or discomfort that could affect your daily activities, such as eating and drinking.

The intensity of the pain can vary and be described as aching, throbbing, clicking, stiff, or severe. It may affect one side or both sides of your jaw, although the exact location of the pain can vary.

For instance, symptoms may affect your:

  • head
  • teeth
  • neck
  • nose
  • mouth
  • ears

The potential causes of jaw tightness range from mild, temporary trauma to infections and conditions that may require medical attention.

Keep reading to learn more about the possible causes and treatment options for tightness in the jaw.

There are several causes for jaw tightness, which range from mild to severe.

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD or TMJD)

TMD causes pain in the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. It can cause pain or locking in one or both hinge joints (temporomandibular joints). These joints are located between the lower jaw and the temporal bone.

TMD can also cause aching, throbbing, or tenderness in or near the ear, jaw, and face. Chewing food may increase feelings of pain and produce a clicking sound or grinding sensation.

TMD pain is often temporary and may resolve with at-home care.


Feelings of stress and anxiety may trigger jaw tightness and pain.

For instance, you may unintentionally clench your jaw or grind your teeth while you’re asleep. You may also hold your jaw in a clenched position while you’re awake without being aware of it.

Stress can also cause other associated symptoms, such as tension headaches.

Teeth grinding (bruxism)

Bruxism (teeth grinding) may have several causes, including:

Bruxism can cause tightness or feelings of soreness in the face, neck, and upper or lower jaw. It can also cause headaches or earaches.

Excessive chewing

Chewing gum or any other substance in excess may result in tightness in the lower jaw (mandible).

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune inflammatory disorder. It affects muscles and joints throughout the body.

Research suggests that up to 86% of people with RA have TMD, which is a cause of tightness in the jaw.

RA may damage the jaw joint and surrounding tissues. It can also cause bone loss in the jaw.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

Though rare, it’s possible for osteoarthritis (OA) to occur within the temporomandibular joints. It can cause deterioration and loss of function of the jaw bone, cartilage, and tissue. This can result in a tight, painful jaw. It can also cause radiating pain to the surrounding area.


Tetanus (lockjaw) is a potentially fatal bacterial infection. Symptoms include abdominal stiffness, trouble swallowing, and painful muscle contractions in the jaw and neck.

Three tetanus vaccines are available in the United States to help prevent infection, including:

Vaccines have significantly reduced the incidence of tetanus in the United States.

Facial trauma

An injury to the face may affect part of the jaw that causes movement, resulting in pain or tightness.

Potential causes of jaw damage include blunt force, such as a striking injury, and even cancer treatments like surgery or radiation.


A 2014 case study found that antipsychotic drugs and metoclopramide (Reglan) may trigger jaw pain symptoms.


If you have an infection around your mouth, such as a tooth abscess, it can affect jaw movement.

Though uncommon, infections can permanently damage muscles or nerves, which can lead to repeated bouts of lockjaw.

Sometimes a locked jaw will include other specific symptoms.

Jaw popping and locking

You might feel an uncomfortable popping sensation along with a tight jaw. This symptom may be caused by:

  • TMD
  • teeth grinding
  • excessive chewing
  • arthritis or other medical conditions

Locked jaw and ear pain

Ear pain is a common symptom associated with a tight jaw. It’s often caused by:

You may be able to relieve jaw tightness and increase your range of motion using targeted exercises and stretches. Here are three you can try:

Manual jaw-opening exercise

Repeat small mouth-opening and mouth-closing movements several times as a warmup. Then, place your fingers on the top of your front four bottom teeth.

Slowly pull down until you feel slight discomfort on the tight side of your jaw. Hold for 30 seconds, and then slowly release your jaw back to the starting position.

Start by repeating this stretch 3 times, and work your way up to 12 repetitions.

Jaw joint stretch

This exercise helps stretch the muscles of the jaw and neck.

Press the tip of your tongue onto the roof of your mouth, directly behind your top front teeth without touching them. Next, use your tongue to apply gentle pressure. Slowly open your mouth as wide as you can, then slowly close it shut.

Stop at the point when you feel discomfort. Repeat up to 10 times. However, you shouldn’t do this exercise if it causes you any pain.

Smile stretch

This stretch helps eliminate stress in the facial muscles, upper and lower jaw, and neck.

Smile the widest smile you can without feeling tightness or pain. While smiling, slowly open your jaw an additional 2 inches. Inhale deeply through your mouth, then exhale while letting go of the smile. Repeat up to 10 times.

You may benefit from wearing a mouthguard if you experience jaw tightness.

Different types of mouthguards are available. These can be made from several materials, ranging from hard acrylic to soft plastics.

If you have bruxism, a dentist may recommend a mouthguard to reduce contact between your upper and lower teeth when you’re sleeping. This can help reduce wear and tear on the teeth and prevent jaw tightness.

If you have a joint disorder, a dentist may recommend a mouth splint to gently hold the lower jaw in a forward position, jutting toward the front of your mouth. This helps reduce the strain on your jaw bone and surrounding muscles.

Mouthguards are available over the counter or by prescription.

Custom-made and 3D-printed mouthguards are more expensive, but they allow for varying levels of thickness based on the severity of your condition.

Speak with a healthcare professional about the best option for you.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty eating, drinking, or speaking
  • popping, grinding, or clicking noise when you move your jaw
  • pain in your jaw that affects your ear and side of your head
  • changes in your vision
  • severe headaches

Several home remedies and medical treatments may help provide relief from jaw tightness. These may include:

Some ways to help prevent jaw tightness may include:

If at-home prevention techniques don’t work, talk with a doctor or dentist to determine how you can find relief for jaw tightness.

What does tightness in the jaw indicate?

Jaw tightness may have several causes, such as facial trauma, teeth grinding, tetanus, excessive chewing, and temporomandibular joint disorders.

How do you relieve a tight jaw?

Some ways to help relieve jaw tightness include massage, jaw stretches, wearing a mouthguard at night, avoiding hard foods, and trying stress-relieving activities.

Can anxiety cause jaw stiffness?

Yes, anxiety has been shown to lead to or worsen symptoms of jaw stiffness.

A tight, painful jaw can be caused by a range of conditions, including bruxism, TMD, and stress. Some at-home solutions may provide relief or prevent tightness and pain.

These include stress reduction and behavior modifications, such as eating soft foods and avoiding chewing gum. Mouthguards or splints may also help.