It might not be easy to get out of bed when you wake up with a pain in your jaw. Understanding what’s causing the ache in your jaw may help you take steps to alleviate the pain — or maybe even prevent it from developing in the first place.
Knowing the cause of your jaw pain can be the first step in addressing the pain. There are numerous possibilities, too.
Teeth grinding or teeth clenching
One of the most likely causes of your morning jaw pain is bruxism. That’s the medical term for teeth grinding. You may be grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw in your sleep without realizing it.
Cavities or gum disease
Tooth cavities usually develop first in the outer layers of a tooth. If untreated, the decay can spread into the inner layers of a tooth and down to the root and surrounding bone. The result: a throbbing jaw.
Periodontitis, or gum disease, can be a cause, too. Periodontitis usually starts out as inflammation in your gums from an accumulation of bacteria, as well as from a buildup of plaque on your teeth. Without treatment, it can work its way down into your bones and other tissues and cause significant pain.
You have some sinuses close to the roots of your upper teeth and your jawbone. And when those sinuses fill with fluid, the congestion can create pressure on your teeth and jawbone. Sinus infections or sinus inflammation can make your jaw ache.
If you’ve woken up with a stiff neck, you can attest that sleeping position can cause some pretty annoying aches and pains. And if you sleep on your stomach or side, you may unintentionally push your jaw out of its natural position and put pressure on your jaw. The result is a jaw that aches when your alarm clock rings in the morning.
Temporomandibular disorders can affect your two temporomandibular joints, which connect your lower jaw to your skull. A temporomandibular joint disorder can cause pain in your jaw, face, and neck, as well as stiffness in your jaw. It might even limit your ability to move your jaw or cause a malocclusion, or misalignment, of your teeth.
Third molars, better known as wisdom teeth, might be notorious for causing jaw pain. Often, there’s not enough room for this last set of teeth to fully erupt, so they can put pressure on the other teeth. They can grow in crooked and cause misalignment, which can be painful. And they often get impacted, or stuck in your jaw and unable to completely erupt through the gums, which can cause pain and stiffness in your jaw.
Treatment for jaw pain in the morning often depends on the underlying cause of the pain.
- Bruxism. Sleeping with a mouthguard or bite guard is a fairly easy, noninvasive way to protect your teeth from damage and reduce some strain on your jaw.
- Teeth clenching. Practicing a few simple tongue and jaw exercises may help you relax tight muscles and align your jaw properly.
- Cavities and gum disease. A dentist may likely recommend a cavity filling, crown, or other procedure, such as extracting a tooth that is beyond saving if the root or gums become severe.
- Sinus pain. You can try a home remedy like breathing in hot, steamy air or rinsing your sinuses with a spray or neti pot to try to alleviate some congestion and pain. An over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever or allergy medicine might help, too. But if a doctor suspects you have a bacterial infection in your sinuses, you may need an antibiotic.
- Sleeping position. You may have to change up your sleeping position if you’re a stomach or side sleeper. One 2018 study suggested that sleeping on your back can be a great option to help avoid putting strain on your jaw or your temporomandibular joints, and possibly for exacerbating problems from a TMJ disorder you may have.
- TMJ disorder. The treatment may vary, depending on which type of TMJ disorder you have. It could include pain medication, heat therapy, cooling therapy, or corrective dental treatments. Some doctors even suggest Botox injections, although the
evidence of the effectiveness is very limited.
- Wisdom teeth. Your dentist can give you advice about whether to undergo oral surgery to remove some or all of your wisdom teeth. In the meantime, an ice pack or OTC pain reliever may help you out.
Jaw pain can be temporary, perhaps from a short-lived sinus infection. But even a sinus infection can occasionally warrant talking with a doctor and additional treatment, like medication.
Other causes of jaw pain, such as TMJ pain or teeth grinding, can justify connecting with a dentist to discuss interventions. Your dentist may be able to suss out the cause of the jaw pain and recommend a treatment.
It’s a good idea to call a medical professional if your quality of life is affected.
When you wake up and realize that your jaw aches and feels sore, you may be tempted to reach for an OTC pain reliever right away. But consider getting checked out by a medical professional. Also call a dentist or doctor if the pain seems to be an ongoing concern.