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What I Wish Others Knew About Jaw Pain

What I Wish Others Knew About Jaw Pain

It was 3am on a Sunday morning, but I was wide awake thanks to the throbbing pain in my jaw. The hot water bottle I was using as a pillow had gone cold, but warmth radiated from my cheeks. My face felt so tired, and I struggled to keep my eyes open as I Googled “24-hour dentist” and “emergency dentist.” My molars felt infected and ready to pop out of my mouth: I was ready to have them pulled. But in reality, I knew my teeth were fine – the pain was a symptom of my worst jaw flare to date.

When I tell people I have arthritis in my jaw, many of them assume I only have issues with chewing and talking. And it’s true that I struggle with those things; as the pain worsens, I speak less and less. Dinner becomes less exciting while eating soft foods, and sometimes I can’t handle those. Yet that’s just two of many ways jaw pain affects my life.

“Jaw Pain” is an understatement

I wish that others knew that jaw flares affect more than that one joint. Inflammation from my jaw seems to travel into my neck and shoulders, making them painful and stiff. It makes my face feel downright exhausted; there are days it’s hard to keep my eyes open. Even my teeth ache, making me constantly check for infections and erupting wisdom teeth. And it becomes harder to get a restful sleep because it’s hard to find a comfortable position and stay asleep. The cherry on top is the extra brain fog.

By no means am I implying that it’s easier to deal with another flaring joint! I’ve had my share of flares that have rendered me housebound and in agony. But there’s something about a jaw flare that is totally different for me. It’s a flare that allows you to walk around and do tasks, yet still sucks the life out of you. In the past, my mum had to quit a good job when using the phone was too painful. I’ve had to leave classes because I couldn’t handle sitting up in a stiff chair.


In an odd way, I’m lucky many of my loved ones deal with various TMJ issues. They ‘get’ why I’m so lethargic, or why I can’t handle carrying my backpack that day. My loved ones don’t question when I need a heating pack on my shoulders and are happy to cater to my soft food diet.

It’s hard to go out to a world that isn’t forgiving. For me, classes were the worst; not only did I not want to participate, but it was a challenge to keep my eyes open. Working on the computer was torture due to neck pain. Some of my teachers pointed out that I wasn’t doing my best. Even though I tried explaining to them, they really didn’t understand why I wasn’t coping better. How could a bit of jaw pain possibly cause so much disruption? I wished I could’ve pulled out my x-rays and MRIs that showed inflammation and erosion, but I only had the energy to quietly nod.

Moving on

It takes time, patience, and resilience to get through a flare. Not only is it hard to live on a soft food diet – it’s boring. Being unable to speak isn’t just inconvenient, it’s painful. Sleep is both desired and dreaded. There are so many everyday things that become nearly impossible; using the phone, typing, carrying anything on your back, yawning, coughing, and so many other things. And I wish others understood this.

Eventually, my flare ended after about a month. And yes, I still had all my teeth. It was difficult to get through, especially when others didn’t understand. But I was extremely lucky for the few who did. And I encourage you to open up to loved ones about the gritty details (maybe through an email or handwritten note, if it hurts to talk). And most of all, feel encouraged that you’re not alone; through everything I’ve ever endured because of this disease, isolation was the most painful.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • agagne
    9 months ago

    I just recently started with the jaw pain, it just popped up out of nowhere. Most of my flares are in my wrist and fingers, but this jaw thing has sucked the life right out of me. I’m 46 years old and I feel like I’m 108. Thanks for being for encouraging, it’s so hard when people don’t understand.

  • Quillingmama
    9 months ago

    I know actually what TMJ issues are like. I’m sure everybody tries to give you advise so I’ll try to keep this to things that might help during a flare. I use a buckwheat hull pillow. It allows me to shape a void in the pillow so my ear and jaw do not get pushed by the pillow. I tried about every pillow I could get my hands on and this is the only one that let me sleep without having that horrible moment when I wake and raise my head to the awful stabbing pain in my ear because I had put to much pressure on my jaw during my sleep. The buckwheat pillow lets me avoid that. One of the little tricking I figured out while my jaw was wired shut because of a total joint replacement was that if you put you tongue on the roof of your mouth toward the back and sort of open up the back of your throat as you start to yawn you can actually yawn without having to open your mouth. It takes a little practice but it is worth learning to be able to avoid painful yawning.

  • Rebecca moderator
    9 months ago

    I must find one of these!!!! I also have TMJ and cervical spine issues. I’ve been just using a really fluffly banket as a pillow because it molds into my neck and head lol

  • smudge
    10 months ago

    Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry you have to go through this!

    My jaw hurts all the time. I have TMJ that I’ve had treated in the past, and over the past year and it’s gotten so much worse again. My neck hurts, my cheekbone hurts, and I have a tendon in my neck on the same side that I want to rip out!!!

    I try not to chew on the bad side, take Advil and sometimes a dose of methylprednisolone, and try not to cry.

    Sending a hug!

    So glad it’s not just me.

  • Adrienne
    10 months ago

    My first symptom was a “frozen” jaw in the am…could not open my mouth!! Thank God I went to a dermotologist who put me on Tremfya.

  • Adrienne
    10 months ago

    My first symptom was a “frozen” jaw in the am….could not open my mouth!! Thank God I went to a dermotologist who immediately Dx PsA and put me on Tremfya.

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