Common reasons why you wake up with jaw pain

Morning jaw pain and related face pain or headache can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life, affecting basic activities such as eating, speaking, and sleeping comfortably. These symptoms can be debilitating, but understanding the causes of these symptoms is critical to resolving the issue. We’ll take a moment today to explore the common reasons why individuals wake up with jaw pain, providing valuable insights for those seeking answers to this concerning issue. By understanding the root causes and potential consequences of morning jaw pain, individuals can make informed decisions about seeking professional assistance and finding the right solutions for their specific needs.

What Is Jaw Pain?

Jaw pain is a prevalent condition experienced by individuals upon waking up, often resulting in discomfort and limited jaw movement. This discomfort, commonly referred to as morning jaw pain, can be caused by various factors, two of which are temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) and bruxism. TMD is a condition that affects the hinge joint connecting the jawbone to the skull, causing joint pain and discomfort in the jaw area. Another common cause of morning jaw pain is the improper positioning of the jaw during sleep. Sleeping in positions that put pressure on the jaw, such as sleeping on the stomach or with the head tilted to the side, can lead to muscle tension and strain in the jaw area. These are just some common causes, and we’ll detail more further in the blog, but for now, it is important to understand that if you do happen to start feeling chronic morning jaw soreness or even severe pain, address it promptly to alleviate the discomfort and prevent further complications.

Common Causes of Morning Jaw Pain

As mentioned above, morning jaw pain can be caused by several factors, including bruxism or teeth grinding at night, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and obstructive sleep apnea. These conditions can lead to discomfort, stiffness, and limited jaw movement upon waking up. Let’s dive a bit more into the possible causes.

Sleep Bruxism or Teeth Grinding at Night

Sleep or nocturnal bruxism, also known simply as teeth grinding at night, is a common cause of morning jaw pain. It’s an unconscious nighttime teeth-grinding condition while someone sleeps that, if severe enough, can cause not just severe jaw pain but even headaches, jaw soreness, and tooth sensitivity. Some estimates put the percentage of the adult population suffering from teeth grinding at some point in their lives to be around 8-31%.

Symptoms of Grinding Teeth at Night

Grinding teeth at night, also known as nocturnal bruxism, is a very common cause of morning jaw pain. The symptoms of grinding teeth at night include waking up with jaw and tooth pain, headaches, facial pain, and earaches. You may also notice worn-down teeth, misaligned teeth, chipped or cracked teeth, and increased tooth sensitivity. Grinding teeth at night puts strain on the muscles and joints of the jaw, leading to discomfort and pain. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to seek dental treatment to prevent further damage.

Bruxism Treatment

What are the effective treatment options for addressing the underlying causes of jaw pain experienced upon waking up? One of the primary approaches is the use of a custom-made night guard to protect the teeth and jaw muscles. The most common types of plastic night guards, but there are several materials and types depending on each patient’s case. Additionally, stress management techniques can be helpful since a high and chronic stress level often contributes to bruxism. Correcting sleep positions and practicing relaxation exercises can also mitigate jaw pain and associated headaches.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ) is another of the common reasons for jaw pain, with around 5 to 12% of people dealing with TMJ disorders at any point in time. The temporomandibular joint is the critical hinge joint connecting the jawbone to the skull, so any damage or strain to it can cause severe health consequences.

Symptoms of TMJ

Symptoms of TMJ include jaw pain, difficulty or discomfort while chewing, clicking or popping sounds in the jaw joint, and a locked or stuck jaw. Other associated symptoms may include headaches, earaches, and neck pain. TMJ can be caused by various factors such as teeth grinding, stress, sleep apnea, and even gum disease. Only a medical professional or dental care expert can diagnose and treat TMJ effectively.

TMJ Treatment

The dentist’s recommended treatment options for TMJ include a combination of oral appliances, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications. Oral appliances, such as bite guards, can help alleviate jaw pain and improve sleep quality by repositioning the jaw into a more relaxed position during sleep. Physical therapy exercises can strengthen the jaw muscles and improve jaw function. Lifestyle modifications, such as stress reduction techniques and avoiding hard or chewy foods, can also help manage TMJ symptoms.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder and a common cause of morning jaw pain. It’s characterized by inducing pauses in breathing during sleep, contributing to sleep disruption and several health conditions.

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a leading cause of morning jaw pain, affecting a significant number of individuals. Common symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, pauses in breathing during sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness. This condition can cause stress on the jaw joint, leading to pain and discomfort upon waking. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to seek professional treatment. A dental appointment will help diagnose and provide appropriate treatment for people with sleep apnea.

Treatment for Sleep Apnea

One effective approach to managing morning jaw pain caused by obstructive sleep apnea is through targeted treatment options. Since sleep apnea is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, it can contribute to jaw pain due to the excessive pressure on the jaw joint. So the treatment for sleep apnea often involves using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to maintain open airways. Additionally, jaw exercises and therapies may be recommended to alleviate jaw pain and improve sleep quality.

Joint Conditions and Arthritis

Degenerative joint conditions, like osteoarthritis, can affect the temporomandibular joint just as they do other joints in the body, leading to pain due to the breakdown of cartilage. Similarly, inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can lead to jaw stiffness and pain.

Injuries and Poor Posture

Trauma to the jaw, such as fractures or blunt force injuries, can result in acute and chronic jaw pain, often necessitating medical intervention. Even poor posture can have a surprisingly significant impact on jaw alignment and function, leading to chronic pain conditions that may require physical therapy.


Neuralgias, particularly trigeminal neuralgia, can cause severe, shooting facial pain that affects the jaw. This condition involves irritation of the trigeminal nerve, which provides sensation to the face and can be triggered by even mild stimulation.

Possible Sign of a Heart Attack

Although extremely rare, it’s also crucial to recognize that jaw pain may be a sign of a heart attack, particularly if it’s on the left side and accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath, warranting immediate medical attention.


Osteonecrosis is a condition characterized by the death of bone tissue due to inadequate blood supply. When it affects the jaw bone, it can lead to jaw pain and other associated symptoms. This condition often occurs as a result of certain medications, such as bisphosphonates, which are commonly used to treat osteoporosis and cancer. The reduced blood flow to the jaw bone can cause the bone tissue to weaken and eventually die. This can result in jaw pain, difficulty in opening the mouth, swelling, and even loosening of teeth.

Other Oral Health Issues That Lead to Chronic Jaw Pain

In addition to TMJ, sleep apnea, and bruxism, there are other oral health issues that can contribute to jaw pain or discomfort upon waking up. Understanding these potential causes can help individuals identify the source of their jaw pain and seek appropriate treatment from a dental professional.

Gum Disease and Tooth Decay

One common cause of jaw pain upon waking is often attributed to gum disease and tooth decay. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, occurs when bacteria in the mouth cause inflammation and infection in the gums. Left untreated, it can lead to bone loss and tooth loss, causing jaw pain. Tooth decay, on the other hand, is the result of poor oral hygiene and a diet high in sugary and acidic foods. The decay and cavities can reach the inner layers of the tooth, causing sensitivity and pain in the jaw. Infections can then take hold and spread to the jaw, causing significant pain and requiring prompt treatment. To prevent these issues, it is crucial to maintain good oral hygiene habits, visit the dentist regularly, and avoid habits that contribute to tooth decay, such as chewing on hard objects or using the wrong pillow. These oral health issues can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life, making it essential to address them promptly.

Sinus Inflammation and infections

Many individuals may experience jaw pain upon waking due to a sinus infection and inflammation. Sinus inflammation, also known as sinusitis, occurs when the tissues lining the sinuses become swollen and inflamed, likely because of a bacterial infection. And besides sinus pain, the inflammation can cause pressure and pain in the face, including the jaw area. Sinusitis can be caused by various factors, such as allergies, infections, or structural abnormalities in the sinuses. Tooth infections and abscesses can also cause jaw pain, as the infection can spread to the surrounding tissues, including the jawbone. Infections within the bone, like osteomyelitis, present another serious cause of jaw pain and can lead to severe complications if not treated promptly.

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth can often be the culprit behind waking up with jaw pain. Wisdom teeth are the third molars that typically emerge in the late teens or early twenties. However, due to limited space in the mouth, these teeth may become impacted or partially erupted, causing discomfort and pain. When wisdom teeth are impacted, they can push against the surrounding teeth, leading to misalignment and jaw pain. Infections or inflammation around the wisdom teeth can also result in jaw pain. In some cases, cysts or tumors may develop around impacted wisdom teeth, further exacerbating the discomfort. If you are experiencing jaw pain in the morning, it is crucial to consult with a dental professional who can assess the situation and provide appropriate treatment options to alleviate the pain and prevent further complications.

Tumors or Cysts

Tumors and cysts within the jawbone or soft tissue of the mouth and face, although less common, are potential sources of jaw pain. Persistent or severe jaw pain should be evaluated by a healthcare professional, who may collaborate with dental specialists, ENT experts, or cardiologists to address the underlying issue and devise a suitable treatment strategy.

Take Any Morning Jaw Pain Seriously and Seek Treatment

Numerous studies and experts strongly recommend seeking professional treatment for any morning jaw pain you experience. Morning jaw pain can be both a common issue and a sign of a serious underlying issue that needs to be addressed promptly, otherwise, you risk impacting one’s quality of life. Ignoring the pain or hoping it will go away on its own can lead to further complications and worsen your condition. By seeking treatment from a certified oral health professional, such as a dentist or oral surgeon, you can receive a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. They have the knowledge and expertise to identify the cause of your jaw pain and provide appropriate interventions. Don’t delay seeking effective treatment, as early intervention can prevent the progression of the problem and alleviate your discomfort. Your oral health is important, so take any morning jaw pain seriously and seek professional help today.
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