The Strange Connection between TMJ Disorder, Stress, Anxiety & Depression

The Strange Connection between TMJ Disorder, Stress, Anxiety & Depression

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:

  • 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.

What is the relation between stress and TMJ?

Severe teeth grinding or Bruxism, headache, muscle pain or tension are all symptoms of stress. Jaw pain or tenderness, jaw locking or popping, pain in and around the ear etc., are some of the symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction.

When you are stressed, your muscles including those in your temporomandibular joint or TMJ get tight and sore. Your muscles stay overworked and cause pain and stiffness. Similarly, if you are experiencing TMJ symptoms, it affects your routine activities and can induce stress. This creates a cycle between TMJ and stress.

Can TMJ Induce Anxiety Attacks?

Studies have shown that people suffering from TMJ disorder are more prone to developing anxiety as well. Even for those with anxiety, the sleep disorders like teeth grinding and sleep apnea that accompany TMJ make matters worse.

Also, in case of people experiencing chronic pain such as jaw pain, neck pain, headaches and other symptoms of temporomandibular joint dysfunction, it affects every aspect of their lives such as eating, working, socializing and sleeping. Scientists have found that chronic pain and depression go hand in hand. Understanding the correlation of TMJ and depression or TMJ and anxiety can help you deal with your TMJ pain better.

How do TMJ symptoms 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 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.

How reducing stress can help you ease your TMJ symptoms?

Stress can start a vicious cycle with your temporomandibular joint dysfunction. TMJ pain can cause stress and anxiety. On the other hand, stress can cause or aggravate the TMJ symptoms, especially jaw pain.

The key here is to manage your stress and make efforts to reduce or eliminate it. Consult a TMJ specialist to learn about what type of relaxation techniques can help your case. Exercise, meditation, laughing out loud, getting some fresh air, etc., can help you handle stress effectively. Similarly, if you are grinding your teeth or are experiencing other symptoms of TMJ, consult a TMJ specialist who can help you relax your muscles, protect your teeth and address other TMJ symptoms.

How to get relief from TMJ pain due to stress?

Here are a few effective ways to ease or relieve TMJ pain due to stress:

  • Exercise, meditation, laughing out loud, getting some fresh air, etc., can help you handle stress effectively.
  • Simple, quick stress relief practices such as breathing exercises, calming aroma therapy, relaxing your jaw if you notice yourself clenching it etc., can help you ease TMJ pain.
  • Don’t eat chewy things. If you have recently discovered that you have a TMJ disorder, eating chewy things can cause jaw locking, dislocation of the disc, clicking or even serious jaw pain. In case of a TMJ disorder, your jaw becomes extra sensitive, hence it’s best to avoid sticky or chewy foods.
  • Making conscious efforts to calm down especially before bed time will help you ease TMJ pain. Simple, quick stress relief practices such as breathing exercises, calming aroma therapy, relaxing your jaw if you notice yourself clenching it etc., can help you ease jaw pain.
  • Consult your orthodontist to learn jaw stretches. The results aren’t immediate, but with dedicated efforts, you will start noticing positive outcomes. Some of the pain may go away completely and you may start noticing that your jaw clicks less than it used to before you did the stretches.
  • A slightly expensive treatment option is getting jaw massages from an experienced massage therapist. Massaging the muscles helps relieve pain in individual muscles which in turn helps you relax more. The advantage of this treatment is that it can prove beneficial in addressing both physical and physiological aspects of the pain.
  • Ask a TMJ specialist to fit you with a mouthguard since it hinders teeth grinding and protects the teeth. A mouthguard is perhaps one of the most expensive but also the most effective treatment options for addressing TMJ pain. This oral device is customized to fit perfectly on your jaw. It hinders teeth grinding and protects the teeth.

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 in Goodyear AZ for evaluation and treatment today!