Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD) are complex medical issues that lead to symptoms in the main joint of the jaw—like pain, an audible “clicking” or “popping” sound, or stiffness and locking sensation. TMD isn’t fully understood—but some of the proposed causes include teeth clenching, physical injury to the jaw or face, and long-term inflammatory conditions like arthritis.
Some of the more surprising potential causes of TMD are stress and anxiety, as chronic exposure to these feelings can lead to other issues, including negative effects on your dental health. Let’s explore the question—does stress cause TMJ disorder?
What is TMD?
Millions of people suffer from Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, which typically manifests as jaw pain. However, the disorder can have many other impacts on the body beyond just jaw pain, with associated symptoms that can greatly limit a person’s daily life.
TMJ disorder arises from dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint, which connects the skull and jawbone. Inflammation or misalignment with the bones, cartilage, or disk between them can cause pain or other symptoms, which are all broadly referred to as TMD. Women and individuals aged 20 to 40 are more likely to develop TMJ disorder than other demographic groups.
It’s recommended to contact the orofacial pain clinic if you suspect you’re suffering from TMD symptoms.
What Are The Main TMD Symptoms?
If you are unsure whether your jaw pain is due to TMJ disorder, there are specific signs and symptoms to watch for. These can vary and may not all be present at the same time, and stress and anxiety can exacerbate the symptoms for a variety of reasons.
Pain in the Face
Orofacial pain can occur in various locations, such as behind the eye, around the ear, or inside the ear in the form of earaches. It may also cause a general feeling of fatigue or discomfort in the face.
Pain While Chewing
A common symptom of TMJ disorder is difficulty chewing or a feeling of discomfort when biting down as if the upper and lower teeth do not fit together properly.
Pain in the Upper Back
The jaw muscles play a role in aligning the head and neck, so jaw pain can cause discomfort in areas of the body below the jaw. This can include the upper back, shoulders, and neck.
So, whenever any of these symptoms are noticed, it’s recommended to contact a professional for TMD treatment.
The Correlation Between TMJ and Stress
The correlation between stress and TMJ disorder is well-established. Although stress is commonly associated with emotional and psychological changes, prolonged or chronic stress can have serious consequences for our physical health as well. Such as a significant impact on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems of our body.
Cortisol, which is the primary hormone associated with the stress response, has been linked to various health hazards such as high blood pressure and autoimmune responses. The interconnectedness of the various systems in our body means that if one system is affected, it can impact the entire body.
In addition to affecting our physiological health, stress can also cause anxiety and depression, which can further exacerbate the body’s response mechanism. The physical manifestations of stress, such as headaches, teeth grinding, and jaw clenching, are also major symptoms of TMJ disorder. Therefore, people experiencing these symptoms may be at higher risk of developing TMJ disorder.
It is crucial to recognize the potential consequences of stress on our overall health, including the risk of developing TMD, and take steps to manage it to prevent its impact on our physical and mental well-being. If you live in Northern Nevada, contact the Northern Nevada Center for Orofacial Pain for TMD treatment in Reno.
Stress-Induced TMD Treatment Options
Now that we’ve answered the question—does stress cause TMJ disorder? It’s time to learn how to treat the problem. If you are experiencing jaw pain and discomfort, it’s important to seek medical attention for a professional evaluation. However, there are multiple ways to manage TMD caused by stress.
If you’re struggling with the discomfort caused by TMJ disorder, you may find relief through exercises designed to strengthen and stretch your jaw muscles. These exercises can help to alleviate pain and discomfort by improving the flexibility and mobility of the muscles in your jaw.
One helpful exercise is Resist Mouth-Closing, which involves placing your thumb under your chin and pressing up against it while closing your mouth. This exercise can help to strengthen the muscles in your jaw and neck.
Another exercise, Resist Mouth-Opening, involves placing your thumb on the outside of your chin and pressing down while you try to open your mouth. This exercise can help to strengthen the muscles on the underside of your jaw.
Tongue lifts are another helpful exercise, where you press your tongue to the roof of your mouth and hold for a few seconds before relaxing. This exercise can help to strengthen the muscles in your jaw and neck.
The Oxford University Hospitals Exercise involves placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth, slowly opening your mouth as wide as possible, and holding it for a few seconds before slowly closing your mouth again. This exercise can help to stretch and strengthen your jaw muscles.
Jaw Slide Side-To-Side is an exercise where you move your jaw side to side in a smooth motion, trying to keep your teeth slightly apart. This exercise can help to improve the mobility of your jaw.
Lastly, Jaw Forward Movement involves slowly moving your jaw forward as far as possible, and then slowly bringing it back to its resting position. This exercise can help to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your jaw and neck.
While these exercises can be helpful in relieving discomfort from TMJ, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise routine to ensure that it’s safe and appropriate for your individual needs.
Spend Time Around Loved Ones
Dealing with stress can be a challenging and complex process, and it can be especially difficult when it is causing symptoms of TMJ disorder. One way to manage stress is to spend more time with loved ones. Surrounding yourself with people who care about you can improve your mood, and can even help reduce muscle tension in the jaw and neck. Additionally, participating in social activities with loved ones can provide a welcome distraction from stress and the discomfort of TMJ disorder. Whether it’s spending time with family, and friends, or participating in group activities, making a conscious effort to increase your social interactions can be an effective way to manage TMD.
Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine
Avoiding alcohol and caffeine can be a helpful way to manage stress-induced TMJ disorder. Both alcohol and caffeine are known to increase stress and anxiety levels in the body, which can lead to teeth grinding and jaw clenching. By reducing or eliminating your intake of alcohol and caffeine, you can decrease the likelihood of developing TMD or reduce its severity if you already have it. Instead of relying on alcohol or caffeine, consider other stress-reducing activities such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any dietary changes you plan to make and ensure that they align with your overall health goals.
While TMJ disorders can have various causes, stress is a significant factor that can contribute to the development of this condition. The good news is that there are ways to manage stress and reduce the likelihood of developing TMJ disorder. If you are currently suffering from TMD symptoms or believe you should be evaluated for TMD, contact the professionals at Northern Nevada Center for Orofacial Pain. We are Northern Nevada’s only dedicated TMD treatment center, and we have years of experience in helping patients alleviate their symptoms and get their lives back. Call today and schedule an appointment!