TMJ Pain? Maybe You’re Stressed

If you didn’t have a chewy dinner yesterday and you suddenly wake up with a very painful jaw, you most likely have TMJ pain related to stress. The temporomandibular joint moves up, down, and side to side, allowing us to speak, sing, chew, or yawn. When you get TMJ disorder, you experience jaw pain or tenderness, difficulty opening or closing the mouth, grinding or clicking noises in your jaw, or facial pain.

Most likely, TMJ pain isn’t anything serious to the point of needing surgery, especially when it’s related to stress. Non-invasive options can effectively reduce the symptoms. Stress can affect you in many areas, and one of them is giving you TMJ disorder, but there are also many other causes of TMJ pain.

Other possible causes of TMJ disorder include arthritis, infection, physical injury, autoimmune diseases, and dental surgery. Violinists are more at risk of getting TMJD as they hold their instruments under their jaws. And women are more affected than men, with nine women to one man ratio. 

How is stress associated with TMJ disorder?

Chronic stress is a well-known culprit for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses. It can negatively affect both your behavior and body. Sometimes, when dealing with stress, our body unconsciously has its behavior. When under stress or anxiety, you might not be aware your jaw tenses, and at sleep, you grind your teeth.

Stress can happen anytime at school, work, and just about anywhere. When you’re stressed, you’re more prone to bruxism or teeth grinding. Your TMJ tenses and tightens. Overworked jaw muscles then result in pain and stiffness. And not only does it affect your jaw but also your teeth. Teeth grinding can wear down the enamel, break, or loosen your teeth. Finally, when you have loose or moving teeth, it can lead to muscular tension, then back to TMJ.

Just like that, TMJ and stress are on a vicious cycle. Stress can cause TMJ, and TMJ can cause stress and anxiety. The best that you can do is treat the very source—stress or anxiety, no need for invasive operation.

What you can do when your TMJ pain is caused by stress

Gnashing or clenching your teeth can happen during the day, but it’s more common at night, so be aware of this habit. Here are some ways you can reduce your symptoms or risks for another TMJD episode:

Identify your source of stress

What usually triggers your stress? Is it your work, studies, people that surround you, or any other reasons? Ask yourself if your stress is worth it. Try to stop mulling over them when they’re not worth your peace of mind.

Manage your stress

While there are things you can’t change and have to be accepted, there are many ways you can reduce your stress. The simplest way to pull yourself together and reduce muscle tension is relaxation and breathing techniques. You can also meditate, exercise, do yoga, or see a therapist to lower your teeth clenching or grinding tendencies.

Reduce stress on the jaw

As much as possible, don’t eat chewy foods (even chewing gum), which can lock your jaw, dislocate its disc, and finally cause serious jaw pain. If you’re experiencing TMJ pain, try to avoid hard and tough-to-chew food for several weeks. Opt for soft foods instead.

Do jaw stretches and massage

Exercise your jaw by opening your mouth, then applying pressure to the chin with your thumb. Before closing your mouth, keep the pressure on your chin for three to five seconds. Squeeze your chin to resist your mouth’s closing. You should feel tenderness in your muscles decreasing as you massage. You know you’re doing the massage properly when you don’t feel the pain increasing. 

Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Drinking alcohol and caffeine can intensify your teeth grinding or clenching, so try to reduce these from your diet as much as possible.

Have a good pre-sleep routine or quality of sleep

Before going to bed, calm down through breathing exercises, lighting candles, aromatherapies, reading, warm shower, or jaw relaxation techniques to ease the pain in your jaw. It helps to be aware that you grind your teeth at night too. You can set an alarm for every fifteen minutes to remind you to relax your jaw. Make sure you get good quality sleep every night, ideally between 7 and nine hours.

TMJ is not a serious concern when it’s caused by stress. Severe TMJ is characterized by extremely restricted jaw and long-lasting symptoms. In this case, the joint will need surgery, which is rarely recommended by your oral surgeon. Most often, lifestyle changes and non-invasive means are already effective at reducing TMJD.


Meta title: How TMJ Pain and Stress Are Related
meta desc: If you didn’t eat chewy food last night yet you wake up with extreme jaw pain, you might have  stress-related TMJ disorder. Learn more about this condition and how you can ease the pain.

Peter Simpson

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