Dr. Robert Pellecchia, a professor at the Kornberg School of Dentistry at Temple University, said stress can make you grind your teeth or clench your jaw at night — you may not even realize you’re doing it.
“When patients wake up, they’ll say their jaws are tired, or they’ll express discomfort in the area in front of the ears. That can be manifested in overt pain or just soreness of the muscles and it can last for a couple of hours or just dissipate throughout the day,” he explained.
The added stress can result in TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, which causes pain, soreness or a tired feeling in the hinge of the jaw, right below the ear.
Pellecchia said if you wake up with soreness, head to the medicine cabinet.
“If you have non-steroidal anti-inflammatories at home, you can take those. Aleve is great; take two Aleve, that can help alleviate the inflammation,” he said. “Another thing to do is take a small dish towel and wring it out. Put it in the microwave for 45 seconds — moist heat seems to work really well.”
Pellecchia advised placing the towel on the joint near the ear.
If the pain persists, you can get a bite guard over-the-counter at the pharmacy, which will prevent you from gnashing your teeth and putting all that pressure on the joint.