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Sore Mouth and TMJ Pain After Dental Work

Updated: May 19, 2023

The numbing just wore off and your mouth feels sore. In fact, your TMJ is hurting and it feels painful to open your mouth. Is this normal and what should you expect?

Table of Contents:

How long does TMJ pain last after dental work?

TMJ flare ups will last anywhere from three days to two weeks in length. The recovery time from the flare ups will depend on a couple of factors.

  • The severity of what caused the pain.

  • The recovery ability of the individual.

  • What steps you are taking, to alleviate the sore mouth.

Can TMJ happen after dental work?

Symptoms of TMJ can happen after dental work but it won't cause permanent TMJ disorder. Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD) is a chronic condition that happens over a long period of time.

TMJ symptoms after dental work:

  • Sore mouth

  • Jaw tenderness

  • TMJ clicking

  • Pain upon opening mouth

  • Locked jaw

For dental procedures to cause it, you would need to undergo dental treatment every day for the next year to get TMJD. Due to this reason, you are most likely only experiencing temporary symptoms of TMJ but here are some possible causes.

Opening jaw too wide

You may have been opening your jaw too wide during the entire procedure. Yes, your dentist does not want you closing your jaw during treatment but at the same time they don't want you opening your jaw to the maximum range of motion.

  • If you close, they won't be able to work.

  • If you open all the way, you will end up with a sore mouth.

How to fix it: What you should do is actually open your jaw as wide as you can and then close down about a quarter of an inch. This way your dentist can still do his work and your jaw is not staying at the end range of motion. It leaves a buffer so to speak.

  • Same concept as if you were trying to do a gymnastic split all the way vs saving some in the tank by stretching gently.

Not using a bite block

If the cavity procedure is going to last longer than 20 minutes, you will end up with a sore mouth and possibly jaw pain from simply holding open for that long. Have you ever held your arms out to the side for 20 minutes? Its going to hurt and feel sore afterwards! Your jaw is no different.

How to fix it: Ask your dentist how long the procedure will take. If it will take a long time, you should ask them to use a bite block. The bite block is a silicone block that helps to prop the mouth open so that you don't have a sore mouth afterwards. It prevents pain by allowing your teeth to rest on the mouth prop so that you don't have to actively hold your jaw open.

No Jaw support

Jaw support is only required when you need a lower wisdom tooth removed. All other dental procedures typically do not require any jaw support. The reason for needing it on lower wisdom teeth extractions is that the oral surgeon may be applying a lot of force on the lower jaw when they are grabbing the molar with the forceps.

  • The lower jaw is attached to the skull by a small joint called the TMJ.

  • The teeth on the upper jaw are attached to the skull so it is not a problem.

How to fix it: Simply ask your dentist to support your lower jaw. Your dentist or the dental assistant will make a fist with their hand and put it underneath your lower jaw. This way when the surgeon tries to push your jaw down, the fist underneath your chin will prevent it from going lower. It may also be useful to use this technique on any extractions on bottom teeth.

Not enough breaks during procedure

For very long dental procedures, it is definitely helpful to give your jaw a break every so often so that it has time to relax and stretch. Holding open for so long in the same position will cause your TMJ muscles to spasm. If they spasm, you will experience TMJ pain from the muscles contracting.

How to fix it: Ask your dentist to give your jaw a break for a minute every 30 minutes. Alternatively you can request to split appointments up so that each one is no longer than an hour. Of course this means that you would need to come back more frequently!

How do you fix TMJ pain after dental work?

The best way to fix TMJ pain after treatment was already completed would involve multiple steps that need to be done together comprehensively. Here are the steps that you should take to relieve your sore mouth.

  1. Stick to a soft food diet for the next few days. Harder foods will tire your jaw out from chewing.

  2. Take over the counter pain medication such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen for its anti inflammatory effect.

  3. Incorporate jaw stretches for 2-3 minutes twice a day.

  4. Hold off on future dental work until the soreness and tenderness resolves. You don't want to exacerbate the existing condition.

  5. You could also request a prescription for a muscle relaxant, Flexeril, to take before bed.

The best way to prevent TMJ from dental work

Don't forget that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! If you can prevent a sore mouth from dental work, then you don't have to deal with fixing the TMJ pain afterwards. To do this we would recommend these steps.

  1. For long dental procedures, split them up into 45 minute appointments.

  2. Use a mouth prop during the procedure.

  3. Take a minute break for your jaw every 20-30 minutes.

  4. Use jaw support if you are having a lower tooth extracted.

  5. If you have pre-existing TMJ problems, you should be extra mindful of these steps.

Hopefully that clarifies why your mouth gets sore after dental work. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact one of our Long Island City Dentist located at 1311 Jackson Ave, Long island City, NY 11101. Or you can give us a call at 718-358-3307.



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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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