Suffering from Stress-Induced Jaw Pain? 3 Experts Explain How to Treat It
It’s a bit of an understatement to say we’re living through stressful times. And you’re not alone if you’ve noticed that stress is manifesting in your body, whether it’s a cricked neck, a sore back or a constantly clenched jaw. I, personally, am of the latter camp. I clench my teeth all night long, have to constantly remind myself to relax my jaw during tense work meetings or while reading the news, and my favorite part of a (remote) yoga class is when the instructor reminds the class to let our mouths go slack, tongue and all.
So, I turned to the experts to figure out how to stop holding stress in my jaw and how to treat the lingering soreness that seems to have taken up residence in the lower portion of my face.
What causes jaw pain?
It can be due to a number of things, Dr. Matt Nejad, a leading dentist at Helm Nejad Stanley explains: “Temporomandibular disorders [which are sometimes referred to as TMJ], sinus problems, tooth pain, clenching and grinding.” It’s also worth noting that studies have shown that there is an association between TMJ and stress. “Stress manifests in so many ways, and for those of us prone to bruxism, grinding and clenching [find] are often exacerbated by stress,” adds Dr. Hadley King, an NYC dermatologist. (Yes, we talked to a derm about this issue, too. Read on to see why.)
Dr. Nejad also notes that “uncomfortable positions can strain your jaw muscles and lead to jaw pain.” So, spending all day working from the couch or your bed, with your neck craned downwards to look at your laptop? Yeah, that’s not great for your jaw.
What’s the best treatment for a sore jaw?
It’s not encouraged to let your jaw pain go untreated. “Clenching and grinding causes wear, chipping, and fracture of the teeth at the bare minimum,” Dr. Nejad says. “Other common effects include joint pain, muscle pain and headaches.” But unfortunately, there’s not one single, easy way to solve this issue. Instead, you should try to take on a multi-pronged approach that involves seeking out a doctor, treating inflammation and finding ways to manage your stress.
- Visit your dentist. Most will recommend a splint (otherwise known as a night-guard) that both prevents damage and can provide relief from clenching or grinding.
- Consider planning a visit to a dermatologist. And ask for Botox. Yes, seriously. “Neuromodulator injections [like Botox] are great for treating jaw pain from clenching or grinding because it helps to relax the muscles involved, the masseter muscles. It relaxes the masseter muscles and prevents them from overworking,” says Dr. King. Just make sure your derm is trained and experienced with injecting in this area, as she notes it’s technically an off-label use. (BTW, off-label use isn’t as illegal or scary as it sounds; it just means a physician is using a drug that the FDA has approved to treat a condition different than your condition.) If you’d prefer, some dentists who specialize in TMJ also administer Botox for jaw-related pain.
- Keep your teeth apart. This is a nicer way of saying: Stop clenching your jaw! Be aware of your behaviors and stop them as soon as you notice them. Per Dr. Nejad: “When you keep your teeth apart, the muscles that are responsible for closing the jaw are not working, so they’re resting.”
- Try a warm compress. The experts agree: 15 minutes each day of a warm compress will help soothe some of the soreness in your jaw while treating the inflammation that might be causing pain. While you could dip a towel into warm or hot water to create a compress, this TrekProof reusable gel pack ($15) can be boiled or microwaved and will work just as well.
- Add stretches into your daily routine. Just as you would with any overworked muscle, stretching your jaw will counteract all the tension it’s holding. Dr. Nejad’s go-to is the N stretch. Basically, say the letter “N” and while your mouth is in that position, stretch your jaw open as far as it will go while keeping your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Hold the stretch for six seconds, relax, then repeat five times. “It’s recommended to do this six times a day, as well as any time you catch yourself clenching your teeth during the day. After all, if you’re clenching, the muscle is contracted, and to help the muscle, you need to stretch it,” Dr. Nejad smartly points out.
- Keep away from certain foods. “I recommend patients avoid foods and snacks that require excessive chewing or opening their mouth wide,” says Dr. Nejad. Skip the gum and chewy candy, but also stay away from hard, crusty breads, large sandwiches, raw vegetables and hard fruits or nuts.
- Try at-home acupressure. Similar to acupuncture (but easier to do from the couch), acupressure stimulates points on the body that correspond to an array of ailments or conditions.
“Stomach 6 is my go-to point for TMJ,” explains Kim Ross, founder of ORA, an acupuncture studio in New York. “The easiest way to find Stomach 6 is to clench your jaw and feel for the muscle. Then massage that area with your fingers for five to ten minutes, two to three times a day.”
Ross also suggested seeking out Large Intestine 4, which is located in the middle area between your thumb and forefinger. “Sitting in a calm space, closing your eyes and breathing into your stomach while pushing on this point will help calm your nerves and bring relaxation to the jaw,” she details.
Products that can help soothe a sore jaw from home:
1. ESARORA Ice Roller for Face
Ice has been a go-to for pain and inflammation for, well, ever. But this ice roller makes it easy to specifically target the areas of your jaw and neck that are of most concern. Simply pop it in the freezer and roll as needed, either morning, evening or both.
2. Sephora Collection Rose Quartz Facial Massager
For targeting smaller areas, like the tightest part of your jawline, try the smaller end of a jade roller. Simply store yours in the freezer and use it to target sore spots from ear to ear and from cheekbone to neck.
3. Herbivore Botanicals Rose Quartz Gua Sha Teardrop
Gua Sha is more than just a skincare trend; it’s a traditional healing technique that’s been used in East Asian medicine for centuries. This form of facial massage is believed to stimulate circulation and relieve tension (as a bonus, it will also minimize puffiness!). For best use, make sure to use your tool after applying a serum or face oil, using upward and outward strokes. More tips on how to properly use Gua Sha here.
4. Sunbeam Heating Pad for Neck & Shoulder Pain Relief
If you find your jaw tension creeping into your neck and shoulders, invest in a heating pad specifically designed for those areas. This one can be draped over your shoulders and worn while you work but can easily target your sore areas while you’re lying down (watching Netflix).
5. Sagely Naturals Relief & Recovery CBD Cream
This CBD cream is like a clean, all-natural version of Icy Hot. Meaning you’re safe to use it on your face (the formula is light and non-greasy). Peppermint and menthol are the ingredients that create the cooling sensation that, combined with the CBD, melts away tension and pain. Hot tip: Apply some on your shoulders and neck before using the above heating pad, for some extra pain relief.
6. Love Always, Liz CBD Oil
Alternatively, you could try an ingestible CBD oil. This 900 Mg tincture from Love Always, Liz is recommended by Dr. King, who suggests taking it to relax your body and mind before bed.