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Temporomandibular joint disorder, also known simply as TMJ or TMD, is a condition that affects the hinge or joint connecting the upper and lower jaw. Chronic pain and other issues are common when this joint is not working as it should. People who suffer from this disorder often face depression, anxiety and stress as well.

Here’s what the research says about TMJ anxiety:

  • A 2002 study by the National University of Singapore found that people with myofascial joint pain had higher levels of depression than those with only disk displacements.
  • An International Journal of Prosthodontics study from 2006 found that patients with TMD had higher levels of depression, and psychological factors play a role.
  • According to a Journal of Pain article from 2013 (based on a German research study), there is a moderate to strong link between depression and TMJ disorder.

Symptoms of TMJ, Depression and Anxiety

Common symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Jaw pain, locking, clicking or popping
  • Reduced jaw movement and tenderness
  • Difficulty in opening the mouth, chewing or talking
  • Chronic migraines or headaches
  • Pain in the shoulders, neck or back
  • Pain in or around the ear, temple and cheek
  • Popping sounds or tinnitus (ringing) in the ear

Symptoms of depression and anxiety include:

  • Teeth grinding or bruxism
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Constantly feeling weak or tired
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Trouble falling asleep/staying asleep
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or daily activities
  • Feelings of stress, worry, sadness or hopelessness
  • Changes in appetite, mood swings or restless behavior

So, How Does TMJ Cause Anxiety or Depression?

Chronic pain causes chemical changes in the brain, and often goes hand-in-hand with depression or anxiety. It’s harder for people dealing with chronic pain to handle changes in their environment, daily tasks and more. This can lead to TMJ anxiety or depression, even if there’s no direct cause-and-effect relationship linking these conditions.

Here’s how TMJ symptoms may cause or increase anxiety:

  1. Dizziness – TMJ affects blood vessels and nerves that go through the back of your jaw, and this can lead to neurological symptoms such as dizziness. This often happens suddenly and with no warning, causing significant amounts of anxiety or stress.
  2. HeadachesTMJ can cause morning headaches in many cases, which affects the way you start your day. In addition to the discomfort caused by TMJ or TMD headaches, studies suggest that starting your day on the wrong note raises anxiety levels as well.
  3. Chronic Pain – A common symptom of TMJ disorder is frequent and consistent pain in the jaw, temples or other parts of the face. Research shows that chronic pain, caused by your body’s attempt to deal with constant stress, could be a trigger for anxiety.
  4. Clicking Jaw – Temporomandibular joint disorder often causes a popping or clicking sensation in the jaw, which can lead to emotional distress if you don’t know what it is. You may also be blinking too often, which can be disturbing and even frightening.
  5. Tinnitus – Most people tune out the “ringing” sound in their ear, but this becomes more difficult to do if it’s loud or constant. Tinnitus caused by TMJ can lead to loss of sleep, distraction and anxiety, even though we don’t yet understand why this happens.
  6. Other TMJ Symptoms – Since TMD disorder affects nerves, it can lead to various other neurological symptoms linked to anxiety. Examples include involuntary muscle movements, numbness in limbs, tingling in extremities, and even impaired thinking.

TMJ may not always cause anxiety or depression, but it can make existing symptoms of these conditions worse. Chronic pain and inflammation have been known to trigger anxiety-like symptoms in many cases, and other TMJ symptoms may also lead to increased stress, depression and anxiety.

Can Anxiety and Depression Cause TMJ?

In some cases, anxiety or depression could lead to TMJ disorder. This is particularly a risk if you’re clenching your jaw as a result of stress, especially in your sleep. Jaw clenching is one of the main reasons for TMD joint pain, and can also make existing TMJ symptoms worse. This in turn makes your anxiety or depression worse, and it becomes a vicious circle!

Controlling TMJ Anxiety and Depression

If you’re suffering from temporomandibular disorder and anxiety, stress or depression, it’s a good idea to seek treatment. Controlling your TMJ symptoms can help reduce other secondary symptoms as well. Even if the disorder isn’t actually the main cause of your anxiety or depression, it can make these issues worse.
You may need to seek medical advice for severe anxiety or depression, but an experienced dentist can help you with TMJ treatment. If you think TMD is causing stress or making existing issues worse, visit Dr. Joshua Hong’s clinic for evaluation and treatment today!