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Does Stress Cause TMJ?

A middle aged man with stress and TMJ

Stress and TMJ

Stress is swiftly becoming a major contributing factor in a variety of illnesses plaguing society today. The world is moving at a fast pace, with little downtime and a steady stream of demands requiring our attention. As if the feelings of panic and general overwhelm of stress wasn’t enough, you might be interested to know that there’s a connection between stress and TMJ, or Temporomandibular Disorder.

What is TMJ?

The temporomandibular joint is part of an integrated system, existing on both sides of the head. It assists in the ability to do such things as chew and speak. When a person suffers with TMJ, they could be experiencing many different symptoms effecting the joints, jaw muscles and facial nerves. Millions of people are effected by TMJ every year, complaining of such symptoms as:

  • earaches
  • headaches
  • jaw pain
  • pain when swallowing
  • pain when chewing

Other symptoms include sensitive teeth, and general pain with opening and closing the mouth. Sometimes, there is even an audible clicking noise when using the affected joint.

Besides pain, TMJ can cause a host of other problematic issues. Often there’s an impact on eating and sleeping, which in turn causes difficulties in other areas of everyday life. Fortunately, there are treatments for TMJ, but one of the first things your dentist may do is to attempt to get to the root of what is causing the TMJ in the first place. Since stress is often one of the major contributors to this condition, we will now take a look at how stress impacts TMJ.

What Does Stress Have to Do with TMJ?

Stress manifests itself physically in a number of different ways. For some people, this happens through grinding of the teeth or clenching of the jaw, both of which are symptoms of TMJ and can cause significant wear and damage to the temporomandibular joint. This is especially worse when it occurs during sleep as we are not even aware of what we are doing, and have no control over it. Some studies estimate that one in every four people, or 25 percent, engage in these behaviors to the point that they are causing damage to their teeth and jaw, which may result in a formal diagnosis of TMJ.

Because the actions contributing to TMJ are often involuntary, people can go a long period of time, suffering significant damage, before even becoming aware that something is going on. Stress tends to activate the “fight or flight” mechanism, which is part of the sympathetic nervous system. This can also have an indirect effect on the immune and digestive networks. Thus, stress can result in wreaking havoc on many aspects of your body’s complex system. As this often occurs during sleep, or as an involuntary, often unaware response, you may be wondering what, if anything, you can do to combat stress from causing or worsening your TMJ.

What Can I Do About Stress and TMJ?

The first thing you can do is to consult with your TMJ dentist. They’ll refer you to resources and techniques that may help reduce your stress. For instance, some people find good results from introducing meditation or other mindfulness techniques into their daily lives. These practices can help us relax and help our bodies to release stress.

Regular massage treatments can also help. Your dentist or physical therapist can also show you some DIY massage techniques you can do on your own at home. Physical therapy is also sometimes recommended. This works by using a combination of stretching and strengthening muscles as well as heat and/or ice treatments.

Counseling can also help reduce tension by assisting you in getting to the root of your stress and helping devise a plan to mitigate it as much as possible. Even implementing a simple exercise routine can help, as exercise has proven to be a good stress reliever.

While all of these things should help to reduce your stress, some people still find that they need dental treatment in order to fully and appropriately address their TMJ symptoms. If this is the case for you, then there are several options your dentist can explore, depending on your individual needs. For example, sometimes medication is used for TMJ, including muscle relaxers, pain medication, and even anti-depressants. Surgery is sometimes necessary, but is usually saved as a last resort as it isn’t a guaranteed fix.

Another common treatment your dentist might prescribe for your TMJ is an oral appliance. This is similar to a mouth guard that athletes wear during sporting activities or a retainer used by patients that have previously worn braces. Of course, your dentist may also have several other options to offer, based on your individual needs.

How Do I Find a TMJ Dentist and What Will They Do?

You can start by asking your family dentist for a referral. They might even specialize in the treatment of TMJ themselves, but if not they should be able to recommend a professional for you. Once you locate a specialist, they will complete an evaluation to determine if you have TMJ. This might include a range of motion test in the area of the jaw, gauging levels of sensitivity and pain, and sometimes even further testing such as x-rays or an MRI.

Once your dentist confirms your diagnosis, they’ll work with you to find a plan to effectively treat your TMJ. They may also offer resources to help reduce the stress that might be contributing to this debilitating condition.

If you are experiencing pain and discomfort and you suspect it may be TMJ, don’t hesitate to contact a TMJ dentist today. By taking steps to reduce stress in your life and by consulting with a dentist to devise a treatment plan, you could find relief sooner than you think.

For more information about the connection between stress and TMJ, please contact Mark Levy DDS at (614) 777-7350 today. There’s no need to continue living in pain and distress. Let us provide an evaluation and determine the best treatment plan for your needs.

Call Mark Levy DDS today at (614)777-7350 to learn more about the connection between stress and TMJ and how you can find relief.