How to Stop Clenching Your Jaw

Feeling stressed.

Do you wake up with a splitting headache or a sore face? Does your jaw feel tight, sore, or even lock up, click or pop when you chew? You could be clenching your jaw in your sleep or throughout the day without even realizing it.

Tightness in the jaw can happen for a number of reasons, including anxiety, stress, bruxism, excessive chewing (like candy and gum), TMJ disorders, and more. Having a tight jaw can cause discomfort or even pain in the ears, nose, head, teeth, jaw, face, and neck. The intensity or severity varies from a dull ache to a constant throbbing, depending on the cause…

More signs you might be clenching your jaw include:

  • Limited range of motion when opening your mouth
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Clicking or popping sounds

Why do I clench my jaw?

There could be many reasons you clench your jaw or grind your teeth. Here are some of the top reasons we can diagnose and treat.

1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD or TMJ)

TMD is generally caused by a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint. Generally, if you are afflicted with this dysfunction, you will experience pain in the jaw joint and the surrounding muscles. This is the joint that allows you the range of motion needed to chew food, yawn, and speak.

Symptoms of TMD can include:

  • Pain or sensitivity in the jaw, face, ear, or neck
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Difficulty opening the jaw wide
  • Constant headaches
  • Jaw-popping sounds and feeling

2. Stress & anxiety

Stress and anxiety are two of the most common causes of muscle tension and jaw clenching. When you’re stressed, you might clench your jaw or grind your teeth (bruxism) during the day or in your sleep without even noticing. After a while, this consistent clenching can cause facial muscles to tighten up. In some cases, clenching and grinding can even lead to more serious dental problems like cracked or chipped teeth, wear in enamel, and even loss of teeth.

More signs of stress include:

  • Clenching your fists
  • Tension in your shoulder and neck muscles

Relief is possible! Keep reading for stress & anxiety relief methods at the end of this article!

3. Teeth grinding/clenching (Bruxism)

There could be many reasons why you might be grinding your teeth, including stress, anxiety, anger, frustration or tension, depression, and even sleep disorders like insomnia. It can also be related to the consumption of too much alcohol and/or caffeine. Did you know bruxism or teeth grinding is generally found more frequently in people who snore or suffer from some form of sleep apnea and in people who regularly smoke, drink alcohol, use certain drugs, or consume a lot of caffeine? It’s true.

Symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Waking up with a headache, jaw pain, or sore facial muscles
  • Often the back teeth appear flattened or seem to be marked with holes
  • Many people experience tooth sensitivity or pain when eating cold and hot foods or drinks

Find out more information on Bruxism and the telltale signs you’re grinding your teeth in our Bruxism article here.

4. Tetanus

Tetanus is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that produces toxins that cause painful muscle contractions in a person’s abdomen, neck, and jaw. Tetanus often also includes trouble swallowing. It is highly recommended that you seek immediate medical assistance if you suspect you may have tetanus. Typically this would follow a noticeable injury.

5. Excessive chewing

Excessive use will cause some pain or discomfort and result in jaw tightness. Like any other joint or muscle in your body, your jaw can suffer fatigue. Always take small bites and give your jaw a rest if it feels sore, tired, or you are experiencing other symptoms.

6. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

RA is an autoimmune inflammatory disorder that affects muscles and joints throughout the human body, including inflammation of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This inflammation of the joint in your jaw can make it difficult or painful to open your mouth. In some cases, it can actually cause damage to the joint and surrounding tissues — unfortunately, even bone loss in the jaw.

Other symptoms of RA include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint inflammation
  • Joint stiffness
  • Tightness of the jaw
  • Bumps under the skin of joints
  • Fevers

How to stop clenching your jaw

1. Use exercises that relax the jaw and facial muscles regularly

Jaw joint stretches and facial exercises can help relieve tightness in the jaw and increase the range of motion. Doing these exercises regularly can help relieve discomfort and prevent further issues and pain in the jaw and facial tissues.

Try these simple exercises:

Exercise 1 – Jaw joint stretch: Rest the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth and lower the bottom of the jaw so that the lower teeth move away from the upper teeth. Doing this should help stretch and relieve muscle tightness throughout the jaw and neck.

Exercise 2 – Manual jaw opening: Open and close your mouth several times to warm up. Next, wash your hands and put your fingers on top of your front four bottom teeth and slowly pull down until you feel a small amount of discomfort in the tight areas of your jaw. Hold this position for about 30 seconds if possible, and slowly relax your jaw back to the closed position. Repeat as needed. Beginners may be able to do about 3 repetitions, while regular practice can benefit from up to 12 repetitions.

Exercise 3 – Smile stretch: To eliminate stress and pain in the face, jaw, and neck, try looking in the mirror and smiling as wide as you can without feeling any tightness or pain. While smiling, slowly open your jaw a bit more (roughly 5 cm), take a deep breath, and exhale while relaxing your smile. Repeat this entire process about 10 times.

Exercise 4 – Massage Time: While not technically an exercise for your face or jaw, massaging the affected area can be a workout for your hands! Massaging the jaw can help increase blood flow and reduce muscle tightness in the jaw and surrounding facial tissues. Open your mouth and gently rub the muscles next to your ears on either side of your face in a circular motion. You can easily do this several times a day to help alleviate pain and discomfort.

2. Consider wearing a nightguard or mouthguard

A night guard is a mouthguard designed to prevent discomfort or damage to your teeth from grinding or clenching your jaw in your sleep. Depending on your underlying condition, you may want or need a custom mouthguard. Always consult with your dentist first to avoid causing further pain, discomfort, or even damage by using the wrong type of mouthguard for your condition.

3. A diet to reduce jaw pain and tightness

Jaw tightness and muscle soreness can be partially relieved by eating softer foods, at least temporarily. By putting less strain and pressure on the jaw, you are essentially allowing it time to heal. This is not an instant remedy. Soft foods you could try include apple sauce, yogurt, oatmeal, fruit and veggie smoothies, avocado, and more.If it’s soft and doesn’t require a lot of jaw action to chew, it’s probably a safe option.

Conclusion about Jaw Clenching 

Tightness in the jaw muscles or joint is a common occurrence caused by a number of factors —  mainly stress and anxiety — as well as conditions like TMJ, TMD, teeth grinding, and general inflammation. But rest assured that your pain and discomfort when chewing, eating, or even speaking can be easily managed with the simple jaw exercises and stretches noted in this article.

If your jaw pain and symptoms get worse or interfere with your quality of life, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.