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Common Reasons Why You Wake Up With Jaw Pain

9 min read
by JS Dental Lab |

If your jaw hurts when you wake up, you’re not alone.

Jaw pain in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) affects around 15% of adults at some point, with most cases occurring between the ages of 20 and 40.

Various symptoms indicate several possible causes.

Here’s what to know about jaw pain, its causes, and ways you may effectively treat or prevent it from returning.

Symptoms Related to Jaw Pain

You already know that your jaw hurts, but what are the other symptoms related to the sore jaw itself?

The answers might surprise you.

The most common symptoms to be aware of related to jaw pain include:

Pain When Chewing or Speaking

Having jaw pain can be a uniquely tricky problem, mainly because you rely on your jaw to chew your food and speak.

When your jaw hurts, it can impact your ability to get the nutrition you need, as well as work and socialize. This may become discouraging as it affects your energy level and mood.

Sinus Issues

If you tend to have issues with your sinuses, such as infections, congestion, or allergies, it may be related to your jaw pain.

Sometimes, sinus issues are the cause, but they can also happen due to jaw pain in some instances.

Be sure to mention sinus-related symptoms to your doctor or dentist to inform their diagnosis better.


Although they can occur at any time for many reasons, frequent headaches are often a result of problems with the jaw.

It may be the stress of clenching your teeth, a lack of flexible cartilage to pad joint movement or several other reasons depending on your diagnosis.

Properly treating the cause usually helps eliminate frequent headaches related to jaw pain.

Tooth Misalignment and Crowding

When you chew, sleep, and smile, these activities naturally cause your teeth to shift over time.

Tooth misalignment and crowding isn’t just a cosmetic concern. These conditions make it easier to trap plaque and bacteria that build up between your teeth, leaving you more susceptible to cavities or gum disease.

Jaw Clicking and Popping

Hearing (or feeling) a popping, clicking, grinding, or cracking sound when you open and close your mouth is one of the most common indications of an issue related to the joint.

Some people struggle with the jaw becoming stuck in the open or closed position from time to time.

Ringing in the Ears

Ringing in one or both ears (known as tinnitus) can have many causes.

However, if it occurs with other symptoms you’re experiencing with jaw pain, tinnitus may be related to your condition.

You may also experience earaches with or without the presence of tinnitus.

Other Symptoms

Many people who have jaw pain also experience limited motion or difficulty opening and closing their mouths.

Facial pain, dizziness, and tooth sensitivity unrelated to an oral disease are also common.

What Are Probable Causes of Ear and Jaw Pain?

Ear and jaw pain are typically interrelated, so it’s crucial to understand the causes to treat them properly.

These are a few of the most common causes of ear and jaw pain:


TMD refers to temporomandibular disorder, which occurs in the jaw joint.

This joint attaches the jaw to the skull right in front of the ear. It functions as a hinge to allow for movements like chewing and speaking.

If you have TMD, you might experience a range of symptoms like jaw muscle stiffness, difficulty opening your mouth to eat, drink, and speak, or hear a clicking or popping sound when the joint moves.


Osteoarthritis is a condition that can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like grinding sounds when a joint moves, earaches, stiffness, pain, and swelling.

These symptoms occur because osteoarthritis in the jawbone causes the flexible cartilage to break down between the joints, so the bones grind against each other.


Migraines are severe headaches often brought on by environmental and physical factors.

Stress can trigger migraine headaches, as can shifting hormone levels, changes in weather and pressure fronts, and overstimulation from bright lights or loud noise.

If you’ve experienced migraines, jaw pain can be an issue that might linger even after the headache and other symptoms subside.

Teeth Grinding (Day or Night)

Whether they know it or not, many people grind and clench their teeth during the day or at night when they sleep. This condition is called bruxism.

Too much stress or anxiety day or night can cause bruxism. Certain antidepressant medications are known to cause bruxism, as may sleep apnea.

Excessive teeth grinding and clenching often leads to jaw pain or stiffness. It can even cause jaw dislocation or tooth damage.

Other Possibilities

Sometimes, there are less obvious causes of jaw pain you may not have realized.

Sinus infections and conditions like allergies can cause swelling that puts pressure on the jaw and surrounding areas.

It’s less common, but growths can develop around the joint and cause pain in the jaw.

Infections or tooth problems might also cause pain, so it’s essential to see your dentist regularly and discuss any oral health concerns you may have.

How are Jaw Issues Diagnosed?

The only way to know precisely what is causing your jaw pain is to visit a dentist or doctor and explain your symptoms.

Before your appointment, be sure to take notes about when the pain occurs (like when you wake up, while chewing, or constantly throughout the day).

Write down any other symptoms you’re having, even if you don’t think they could be related to your jaw pain. You might be surprised at what could be relevant to your diagnosis, so don’t leave out any details like nausea, dizziness, or difficulty breathing.

Depending upon the specific issues you describe, your doctor or DDS may refer you to a specialist or perform specific diagnostic tests themselves.

Health professionals diagnose jaw and ear pain through:

External Exam

The first thing your dentist or doctor will do is perform an external exam to identify any causes that don’t necessarily require special tests to diagnose.

They will likely touch the jaw and surrounding areas, asking you to open and close your mouth to observe how the joint moves.

A knowledgeable dentist will also want to check your teeth for alignment issues, potential infections, or signs of bruxism, like worn down or damaged teeth.

Vital Signs

Your primary care physician checks your vital signs before anything else each visit.

These are the initial indicators of your overall health and include factors such as blood pressure, pulse rate, body temperature, and lung function.

While vital signs may not seem like they could be related to your jaw problems, it’s critical to have them checked anyway to rule out any potentially serious causes. These are rare but do occur.


More than likely, your dentist will want to perform an X-ray of your teeth and upper and lower jaw to pinpoint the cause of your pain.

X-rays help identify issues like jaw and tooth misalignment, growths, infections, and arthritis.

This scan will also inform the dentist’s decision about best treating your soreness and the advice they will offer.

Be aware that you may need to remove body jewelry to receive an X-ray. It’s also possible your doctor will delay this type of exam if you are pregnant, depending on the circumstances.


Your dentist may recommend a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to diagnose the cause of your jaw pain. This method is the most comprehensive way to identify any issues.

While an MRI does help identify some of the same concerns as an X-ray (like alignment and arthritis), this method has some additional benefits.

The MRI machine can also scan the tissues of the jaw area, which allows your dentist or doctor to see any inflammation or signs that an autoimmune disorder may be the cause of your pain.

CT Scan

Similar to an MRI, a computerized tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) shows more than a basic X-ray can.

CT scans offer doctors a look at various cross-sections of the body that include images of bones, tissue, and blood vessels.

This type of diagnostic imaging can also help identify inflammation or signs of illness that aren’t visible by looking at the bones alone.

How are Jaw Issues Treated?

How your doctor or dentist recommends treating jaw pain depends on the cause and severity of your condition.

They may also consider your overall health and ability to tolerate certain procedures or medicines.

These are some of the most common treatments for jaw pain and TMJ disorders:

Physical Therapy

Some people can achieve relief from jaw pain by doing specific exercises regularly.

These particular exercises can help stretch, strengthen, relax, and heal your jaw while increasing mobility.

Mouth Guards

When chronic clenching and grinding of the teeth causes jaw pain, the best way to address the problem is with a custom mouth guard.

Whether you clench and grind by day or at night while you sleep, there are plenty of options for every need.


Sometimes misaligned teeth or bite affect how your jaw opens and closes and can cause pain if the joint is out of alignment.

In this case, treating the pain means addressing this issue by aligning teeth with custom trays or braces.

Behavioral Therapy

When clenching triggered by stress or anxiety causes jaw pain, behavioral therapy can help change nervous behaviors.

It teaches patients how to cope with their pain and change how they think and feel about other stress factors that affect clenching tendencies.

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

If your jaw pain results from inflammation from arthritis or another condition, your doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs).

As the name implies, these medications help reduce inflammation, and you may take them with other treatment methods.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle Changes

There are a few ways to treat jaw pain at home, including hot and cold compresses and diet changes like eating softer foods to rest the jaw.

Managing your stress levels and trying relaxation techniques can also reduce the likelihood of clenching and grinding your teeth. You might try yoga or meditation, prioritize self-care, increase your exercise, or spend more time in nature.


Though it isn’t the first option most people would consider, some cases involving jaw pain result from advanced conditions that require surgery to remedy.

These surgical treatments range in levels of invasiveness and are usually only recommended when other methods have not been successful.

When Jaw Pain is a Major Concern

Jaw pain and its accompanying symptoms are inconvenient and uncomfortable. But while it’s best to treat these issues as soon as possible, they aren’t usually an emergency.

There are, however, some cases where you should seek help for your jaw pain immediately because they pose additional risks to your health if you wait.

These include:

When You Can’t Eat or Drink

Getting the proper nutrition and staying well-hydrated is critical to maintaining your health.

If you find that you cannot eat and drink without severe pain and the discomfort causes you to avoid nourishing your body, see your dentist or doctor immediately.

When it Interferes with Normal Functioning

Some people with jaw pain find that it subsides throughout the day or with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

If your jaw pain prevents you from working, taking care of yourself or your family, or causes you to miss out on gatherings and events, it’s time to find a solution.

When You Can’t Sleep

Sleep is the most vital way to care for your mental and physical well-being. It’s also necessary to reduce stress and have enough energy for the day.

Jaw pain that interferes with your sleep or causes a sleep disorder is something to take very seriously.

When You Have Other Signs of Illness

When your jaw pain occurs with other signs of illness, like a fever that doesn’t subside after a couple of days, it may indicate an infection.

See a doctor right away if you are experiencing jaw pain with other illness-like symptoms that are causing you discomfort.

When You Can’t Open Your Mouth

Though occasional locking of the jaw joint is standard with mild to moderate jaw concerns, consider it an emergency if your jaw is stuck and you cannot open your mouth.

You need to comfortably eat and drink to stay well and prevent further health complications. You’ll also need to communicate with the doctor, so bring another person or a pen and paper along if you cannot speak.

Learn more about how Stress and Bruxism relate to teeth grinding!


Jaw pain can occur for several reasons.

No matter the cause, it can be extremely uncomfortable and make essential functions like eating or sleeping extremely painful.

Luckily, there are ways to address jaw pain, depending on the cause. Contact JS Dental Lab to discuss custom night guards made specifically for you that support your jaw.

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