What Causes a Stiff Jaw?

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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 28 July 2018
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Some of the most common causes of a stiff jaw include temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), tetanus, and jaw trauma. Impacted wisdom teeth can also occasionally cause jaw stiffness if the impaction is severe enough to affect the roots. A person who experiences stiffness in the jaw will most likely need to see a medical professional or dentist, depending on what he suspects is the cause of the problem. After a diagnosis has been made, treatment can begin. The common causes of this symptom are almost all treatable, and in most cases, jaw stiffness decreases gradually after treatment begins.

TMJ is one of the more common problems that can lead to jaw stiffness. People who have this condition suffer from problems with their jaw joints, which might result from excessive teeth grinding or gum chewing. Sometimes, tooth misalignment can also lead to TMJ. The continual strain on the joint may make it hard for a person to open and close his mouth at times. Treatment for this problem varies, depending on what caused it, and in most cases, TMJ symptoms can be alleviated or eliminated so that stiffness and other problems are minimal or nonexistent.


Tetanus, which is a disease caused by bacteria, usually results in jaw stiffness. Most people initially experience this symptom when they have a tetanus infection, and in most cases, other symptoms, such as stiff neck, sweating, and fever, occur soon. Many people have been vaccinated against tetanus, but those who haven't are at risk of contracting it, particularly if they cut themselves on something metal covered in rust. There is no known cure, but symptoms can often be managed with the use of antitoxins.

A person who has suffered from some type of jaw trauma may not be surprised to experience a stiff jaw. When injury to the jaw has occurred, particularly if the injury involved the joints, it may be difficult to open and close the mouth for a few days. Jaw injuries might also lead to swelling, which could make it difficult to open the mouth. When injuries cause stiffness, the discomfort may decrease gradually as the injury heals. Sometimes, jaw injuries lead to ongoing problems with stiffness, even after the healing process is complete.

An impacted wisdom tooth is a tooth that is not able to break through the surface of the gums. Sometimes, wisdom teeth develop at odd angles underneath the gums, and this might put pressure on the muscles around the jaw as well as on the jaw joints. Impactions can often lead to jaw stiffness if the problem is severe enough to affect the jaw muscles or joints. The best treatment, in most cases, is to have the tooth surgically removed.


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