Stress can cause a multitude of problems. It can lead to a nervous stomach, make hair thin out, contribute to weight gain, and even cause jaw problems, such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
David Epstein, DDS, Nikita Vakil, DMD, Leah Zils, DDS, and our team here at The Woodlands Dental Group in The Woodlands, Texas, are experts in treating TMJ issues. And in this blog, they discuss the link between stress and TMJ problems.
Let’s review your jaw anatomy
You have two temporomandibular joints, and they’re located on each side of your head. Furthermore, they connect your jawbone to your skull. As a type of ginglymoarthrodial joint, these joints are responsible for essential movements, such as chewing, speaking, and yawning.
If either joint becomes compromised, this can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms that are collectively known as temporomandibular joint disorder, which is usually shortened to TMJ disorder or TMD.
How stress can impact the jaw
If stress levels skyrocket, the body's natural response can lead to unconscious habits, such as jaw clenching or teeth grinding. These actions often occur during sleep, and they can strain the temporomandibular joints and surrounding jaw muscles.
These muscles are responsible for chewing, so if they get strained, this can lead to jaw pain, discomfort when chewing, and a clicking or popping sound when opening the mouth. Furthermore, teeth grinding can wear down your teeth and cause inflammation.
Also, due to the tightening of the jaw muscles, this can lead to headaches and pain that radiates to the neck and shoulders. And, this tension can create a feedback loop, because the discomfort can further increase the stress levels, which could exacerbate the TMJ-related issues.
Breaking the cycle of stress and TMJ pain
Recognizing the connection between stress and TMJ pain is the first step toward breaking the cycle. Here are a few strategies to consider:
Stress management techniques
Stressors are unavoidable, but how you manage them can make a big difference in your physical and mental wellness. So, try to incorporate stress-relief practices into your routine.
Exercise can be a great stress-reliever, as can spending time with loved ones and participating in hobbies. You can also try deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
Stress often leads to muscle tension, and that can manifest anywhere from your shoulders to your neck to your jaw muscles. Try various neck and shoulder stretches to soothe achy, tense muscles. You can also try jaw muscle stretches, such as chin tucks and goldfish exercises.
We may also recommend a night guard to protect your teeth from grinding during sleep. A night guard fits over your upper or lower jaw, and when you wear it during sleep, it stops your teeth from rubbing against each other.
Take a look at your lifestyle and evaluate factors that could be contributing to your stress. Then, see if you can adjust things to reduce your stress level. For example, see if you can pare down your schedule. Or, see if you can coordinate your schedule with others in your family.
Your body's response to stress is complex, and its impact can be felt in unexpected places, such as your jaw. By recognizing the connection between stress and TMJ disorders, you can take proactive steps to manage stress and minimize its effects on your jaw and overall health. The good news is that as you reduce stress for the sake of your jaw, your mind and body can benefit, too.
If you have jaw pain, we can evaluate your condition and design a treatment plan to help you get well. To learn more, call 281-367-3085 to book an appointment with The Woodlands Dental Group today.