Why Your Jaw Is So Sore When You Wake Up

Photographed by Michael Beckert.
For some people, when they wake up in the morning and take a big yawn, they feel a dull, achy pain radiating from their chin to their ear. Or maybe it's difficult to open and close their mouth. If this happens to you, and especially if that pain continues throughout the day, you're probably wondering what the deal is.
In most cases, jaw soreness is caused by excessive grinding or clenching of your teeth at night, says Robert Merrill, DDS, clinical professor and residency director for oralfacial pain at the UCLA School of Dentistry. It's kind of spooky to think about yourself snoozing peacefully on the outside and grinding away at your teeth on the inside, but these symptoms are actually pretty common. Surveys suggest that about one in four people are aware of symptoms related to jaw pain, Dr. Merrill says. "This would include some jaw muscle tenderness, clicking, or other noises during jaw movement and joint tenderness," he says.
If you are experiencing any sort of jaw or mouth pain, mention it to your dentist so they can evaluate your mouth, Dr. Merrill says. "The main purpose of the physical examination of the jaw is to determine the source of pain," he says. Your dentist will "palpitate the muscles and joints" to see if they can replicate the kind of pain you're experiencing, and figure out the cause, he says. Depending on how mild your symptoms are, making a few lifestyle adjustments might be enough to ease your pain.
Usually, dentists will recommend that you limit daytime jaw activity for a period of time if you are experiencing jaw soreness, Dr. Merrill says. "This is done by softening the diet, avoiding hard or chewy foods or gum, and doing some jaw stretching exercises to stretch out the soreness of the muscles," he says. Ahead are three common culprits for morning jaw pain.