A lady holding her face because she has TMJ stress pain

The Relation Between TMJ Disorders and Stress

Stress is a normal human reaction to life challenges. Whenever you feel overwhelmed and unable to handle Physical, mental, or emotional difficulties, this is called stress. We all experienced stress throughout our life. However, our mind and body are designed to cope with stress in most cases. Additionally, different people respond to stress differently. While some will overreact to normal challenges and develop chronic stress disorder, others can adapt and mange to handle serious stressful conditions. Stress will harm your health whenever things get out of control. In this case, stress might impact both your mental and physical well-being alike. However, stress and TMJ are often linked to each other because TMJ symptoms are worse during stressful time. Jaw pain stress if not treated might add additional layer to your stressful life. 

Does Stress Cause TMJ Disorders?

Researcher has proven that stress might contribute to TMJ dysfunction and pain. Pain and other TMJ symptoms will get worse whenever the level of stress goes up. In fact, day-time bruxism is linked to stress. This is why stress management could cure day-time bruxism permanently. Stress also will make your night-time teeth clinching and grinding worse. This will reflect as morning headache in the temple areas and pain on the TMJ and face.

Prolonged stress is also linked to more serious health conditions. Among the health conditions linked to chronic stress are:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Chronic pain
  • Headaches
  • Muscles spasm
  • Mental and social disorders
  • Cancer
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Autoimmune disease
  • TMJ dysfunction
  • Chronic fatigue 
  • Suicidal attempts

Cortisol, Stress and TMJ Disorders

Under stressful conditions, your body release cortisol. Cortisol is a natural hormone released by your body to cope with stress. In fact, normal cortisol level is crucial to our health. Normal cortisol functions include:

  • Regulate the levels of blood carbohydrates, proteins, and fat 
  • Works as a strong natural anti-inflammatory
  • Control the sleep / wake cycle
  • Regulate blood pressure
  • Increase blood glucose concentration
  • Provide you with energy to handle stress and threats (Fight or Flight)

Under chronic stressful conditions, your body release a lot of cortisol for prolonged period of time. However, prolonged high level of cortisol will desensitize your body to this hormone. On the other hand, TMJ disorders are associated with tissue inflammation. Under normal conditions, cortisol provides natural healing to TMJ inflammation. When your body get desensitized to cortisol, cortisol will lose its anti-inflammatory effect on the TMJ and other body organs. In other words, your body will lack its natural anti-inflammatory mechanism controlled by normal cortisol level.

Other health consequences linked to prolonged stress and excessive cortisol release are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High level of blood sugar and diabetes
  • Sleep disorders
  • Tissue inflammation
  • Chronic pain
  • Loss of ability to cope with stressful conditions.
  • Mental disorders

In conclusion, Stress can trigger Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and dysfunction.

The Effect on TMJ Patients

Stress will trigger more frequent teeth clinching and grinding. At the same time, your jaw muscles will use stronger force during teeth clinching and grinding which will cause more damage to your TMJ. This explains why TMJ pain and jaw muscles pain get worse during stressful times.  

Jaw muscles pain is just the first TMJ stress related symptom. TMJ disc displacement, jaw clicking, jaw locking and TMJ arthritis may follow. The treatment of advanced TMJ conditions might produce less than satisfactory results.

Things You Can Do

Our life is full of challenges. Without challenges, life is boring. Some of these challenges are serious, while some are not. People reaction to stress varies. Some can manage the most stressful conditions, while others collapse against minor stress. Here are some tips that may help you cope up with stress:

  • Find out the stress triggers
  • Make changes in your life such as good night sleep, traveling, eating healthy food, yoga and exercise
  • Ask for help

At the end, things will recess to the norm. Time will ease up most of our hardship. How many times you got hurts  and felt severe pain, but the pain went away without any treatment. When you feel your stress is damaging your life and you cannot cope with it, ask for help. There are many counselors, therapists, psychiatrist, and religious authorities who are ready to help you win your normal life back. Thew will teach you how to cope with stress.

How We Can Help You!

At the Museum Dental Center, we are not therapists nor psychiatrists. However, we can help relief your TMJ related jaw pain stress. This jaw pain stress if not treated might add additional layer to your stressful life. We also may refer you to pain therapist if we feel you need one.

Our address: SAG-AFTRA Plaza, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite #5, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Phone: (323) 933-3855

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