Do you ever feel excruciating pain in your jaw or elsewhere in your face when you open your mouth, such as when chewing, yawning, or talking? Is it sometimes difficult to open and close your jaw? Do your jaw muscles feel strained? Do you wake up with a sore jaw? Are you noticing that your teeth are becoming worn and that you grind your teeth during the day? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be experiencing the consequences of untreated TMJ disorder. TMJ disorder stands for temporomandibular joint disorder. Sometimes, it’s an issue that can resolve itself with home care, but other times, it’s a chronic pain residing in your jaw joints that will need professional treatment. People often ask one common question about TMJ disorder, “Can stress and anxiety cause TMJ?”

You might be surprised to learn that, yes, stress and anxiety can indeed cause TMJ. While it is not one of the most widely recognized causes of the disorder, it is a growing concern as people lead more stressful lives. The connection between TMJ and stress isn’t one-sided; they’re symbiotic, meaning that they’re closely related and both affect each other. 

stressed anxious man sits on the side of his bedThree Types of TMJ Disorders

There are three types of TMJ disorder, or medically called TMD. Stress-induced TMJ often begins as a myofascial pain disorder. However, don’t be fooled. You can have more than one at a time, and one can cause another. 

Internal Derangement of the Joint: A structural problem with your jaw due to genetics or injury. With this, your jaw joint regularly slips out of place. 

Degenerative Joint Disease: Overuse or aging causes degeneration or inflammation. Usually due to osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or a perforated TMJ disc. 

Myofascial Pain Disorder: Pain, soreness, or discomfort in the muscles surrounding the jaw joint. 

Connecting Stress and Anxiety to TMJ

It is relatively easy to understand why stress and anxiety could cause TMJ. TMJ is caused by the physical strain placed on the jaw joints because of bruxism. Bruxism is the medical term for grinding your teeth. When you’re stressed, you tense your muscles, which means your jaw too. Just like other muscles, when your jaw is contracted for a length of time or is repeatedly, the muscles become sore. This is when you start to feel pain. TMJ pain can make it difficult to open and close your jaw, cause headaches, and even pain in your neck and shoulders. For those with chronic bruxism and myofascial pain disorder, you can begin to wear down your teeth, making for an uneven bite which is the perfect opportunity for your jaw joint to slip out of place. The result is another kind of TMJ disorder, internal derangement of the joint.

Additionally, because your jaw muscles are frequently contracted, it can cause inflammation that pulls your jaw joint out of place. Along with this, you’ll begin to hear clicking and popping sounds when you open and close your mouth. In severe cases, you’ll experience other symptoms, too, like vertigo, ear pain, ear fullness, tingling fingers, and migraines. 

As if the relationship between stress, anxiety, and TMJ wasn’t enough at this point, your TMJ can also cause stress.

Connecting TMJ to Stress and Anxiety

The other side of the coin is that TMJ can cause stress and produce anxiety from that stress. Stress causes more muscle tension, resulting in more pain. Those who have stress-caused TMJ likely have a sore jaw when they wake up in the morning due to nighttime teeth grinding. When you know you’re going to wake up every morning with pain in your jaw, you’ll likely feel anxious about it. Besides the pain in your jaw, you also are likely to experience morning headaches and a lack of sleep. Due to the pain in your jaw, it can be hard to fall asleep and even more difficult to stay asleep when you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep. You may find that you wake up multiple times during the night and feel unrested in the morning with a headache to top it off. Feeling unrested, morning headaches, and the resulting anxiety are all symptoms of sleep deprivation from TMJ.

In stress-induced TMJ that goes untreated for a long time, it’s not unheard of for people to develop other disorders due to a misaligned jaw, such as sleep apnea. Depression and anxiety are also common in those who have a chronic pain disorder like TMJ. 

Relieve Your TMJ With the Help of a Los Gatos Dentist

While it may not be detrimental if you are experiencing a momentary episode of stress, dealing with long-term stress could cause TMJ. In fact, this repeated tightening of muscles and clenching of joints can tremendously impact your overall physical health. In the worst cases, it is possible to clench the jaw so tightly that the entire joint becomes misaligned, thus putting pressure on nerve endings and forcing your whole body to cope with the problem.

However, if you think your TMJ may be related to stress, you can find effective solutions by visiting your TMJ dentist, Dr. Nancy Nehawandian. One such solution is to have you fitted with a mouthpiece designed to keep your jaw in alignment, thus preventing you from grinding your teeth so hard that it causes TMJ. This can alleviate a great deal of pain and save you from even more severe complications that result from the disorder going unabated for long periods. Dr. Nancy has permanent solutions too, and if needed, can fix your teeth if they were damaged from TMJ. Don’t let TMJ rule your life. Get it treated today.

If you suspect that your stress or anxiety may be causing TMJ, call (408) 354-5600 or schedule an appointment online.