If you wake up with a sore jaw in the morning, there might be a simple solution, or it might be a sign of serious, even deadly health problems. How can you tell? The best way is to see a TMJ dentist who can eliminate some of the more serious causes. But if you’re not ready to see a dentist yet, here are some things you can consider.

If you wake up with a sore jaw in the morning like this man, it could be linked to sleep apnea

Find the Right Position

Your sleeping position could significantly impact your jaw. There is no one best position for avoiding jaw pain, but consider how your position might impact your jaw.

Sleeping on your stomach with your head to the side can put stress on the jaw joint, in part because it causes torque on the neck and the neck and jaw have muscles that work together. When neck muscles get stressed, the jaw muscles can, too.

Sleeping on your side can also stress the neck muscles if your head isn’t properly supported. If you sleep on your back, there’s little direct danger to your jaw joint, but it could impact sleep apnea risk, which, in turn, increases jaw pain problems (see below).

A Proper Pillow Is Worth Its Weight in Gold

As we alluded to above: pillow support can impact your risk of jaw pain. If your pillow isn’t supportive enough, your neck might be strained in trying to hold up the head. Your pillow might also have the opposite problem, it could prop up your head too high, leading to soreness. Other pillows can encourage you to push down in with your jaw or try to burrow through subconsciously.

It’s hard to give good advice on finding the perfect pillow for you, but if you try a few out (swap pillows with family members so you don’t have to buy a new pillow) you can get an idea of how it might affect your morning jaw pain. However, it’s important to note that no pillow has been proven to actually treat jaw problems.

Diet and Habits

Of course, it makes sense that what you eat could contribute to jaw pain. This is one of the things that will work out your jaw. So if you notice that jaw pain tends to happen in the night or in the morning after a particular meal or type of food, then you should consider that the two might be related.

But remember that it’s not just chewing that can cause jaw pain. It can also be linked to bruxism (jaw clenching and grinding). Bruxism, in turn, can be related to consumption of caffeine or alcohol. Smoking can also increase bruxism and jaw pain.

Your Daily Cares

Ideally, sleep is supposed to wash us of all the things that occupy our mind during the day. However, that’s rarely the case. Instead, we often find that the things bothering us during the day stay with us at night. Stress is one of the leading causes of daytime bruxism, and it also contributes to nighttime bruxing. Clenching and grinding can make your jaw sore.

Note whether your jaw pain seems to peak with your stress levels. If so, then it’s probably related. Try to cut down your stress levels. Try home interventions to reduce stress levels. (But don’t drink alcohol before bed. This might seem like it helps you sleep, but can interfere with your sleep through the night, making the situation worse.) If you have trouble controlling stress on your own, you might consider seeking the help of a therapist.

Your Exercise Regimen

You might think that your jaw isn’t affected by your daily exercise routine–after all, you’re not exercising your jaw, right?–but it can be. High impact exercises like running and calisthenics can jolt your jaw. Upper body exercises, especially weights, can also stress your jaw. When your body is marshalling its upper body muscle strength, the jaw can clamp down to try to help steady the core. This can stress your jaw muscles just like it stresses your quads, pecs, or biceps.

You might feel jaw pain during or after your routine, or you might only notice it in the morning after you sleep. Keep track of your jaw pain and compare it to your exercise schedule. It a particular exercise corresponds to your jaw pain, they might be linked.

Waking up Sleepy

Your jaw pain could also be linked to sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition where your breathing stops for long periods while you sleep, usually because your airway collapses. Your body might clench your jaw to try to hold your airway open, though you’re not aware of it.

The most common symptoms of sleep apnea are daytime sleepiness and waking up feeling unrested. Snoring is closely related to sleep apnea, and most people with sleep apnea snore. If you experience these symptoms, then sleep apnea could be a cause of your morning jaw pain.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ or TMD)

Temporomandibular joint disorders (called either TMJ or TMD) come in many forms. They can be related to the jaw joint or nerve problems, but most of the time, they’re linked to overworked, sore muscles. They can overlap with many of the causes above, and they’re very complicated to diagnose and treat.

Many people with TMJ spend years trying to find effective treatments for their TMJ, often seeking treatment for one TMJ symptom (like headaches) without realizing the scope of the disorder.

If other interventions aren’t helping your jaw pain or other symptoms, you should talk to a dentist about TMJ and learn whether this is your problem.

If you’re looking for help with jaw pain in the Denver area, please call (303) 691-0267 today for an appointment at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.