How Stress and Clenching Your Jaw Can Lead to TMJ

A female patient at 21st Century Dental winces in pain as her TMJ dysfunction flares up.

Are you one of the 10 to 35+ million Americans facing temporomandibular joint dysfunction? Perhaps, you know this condition better by its acronym: TMJ.

Women have a higher likelihood of getting TMJ. In fact, research shows that the ratio for women to men with TMJ is nine to one.

Now, we know that TMJ can affect your life in many ways, such as by making your jaw, neck, and shoulders feel uncomfortable. It can also cause long-term pain in the head and make it difficult to move your jaw, which can lead to issues with eating and beyond.

People often ask about the symptoms of TMJ, but another question we hear often is: what causes TMJ? Today, we’re going to explain a few potential factors that can contribute to TMJ, including stress and clenching your jaw, so that you can help reduce your risk.

How Stress and Clenching Your Jaw Can Lead to TMJ

It is true that stress and clenching your jaw frequently can cause TMJ. Clenching of the jaw is often even a symptom of stress, as is grinding your teeth. In fact, over 70 percent of dentists in a recent survey noted that the number of patients that they help who clench their jaw or grind their teeth has gone up.

It’s very possible to clench your jaw or grind your teeth without realizing it during the daytime, but it happens more often when a person is asleep. This can add a lot of pressure to your teeth, as well as the bones and muscles within the jaw. If you continue to clench your jaw, whether or not you know it’s happening, it can eventually lead to TMJ.

Let’s talk a little more about how stress and clenching your jaw make you susceptible to TMJ.

How Stress Can Affect Your Oral Health

You might know that stress can impact your daily life, but how about your oral health? One of the first things that come to mind is grinding your teeth. You’re more likely to grind your teeth when you’re stressed out, which can damage your teeth and hurt your jaw.

As we mentioned above, stress has also been linked to TMJ. When your jaw joints become tense or inflamed, TMJ is likely, and that can lead to a plethora of symptoms, such as jaw pain.

Not managing your stress can also increase your risk for other dental issues, such as periodontal disease. How? For one, stress can reduce your body’s ability to fend off bacteria. It can also stop you from taking proper care of your dental health since you might be too stressed out to keep up with regular brushing and flossing.

How Clenching Your Jaw Leads to Pain and TMJ Dysfunction

The exact cause of a person’s TMJ might not be easy to determine, but it has been shown that clenching your jaw can lead to TMJ. That means that you’re likely to experience one of many symptoms of TMJ, including pain in the jaw, shoulders, and neck, if you clench your jaw a lot.

Clenching your jaw overextends your jaw joint. That can reposition the discs in that joint or break the joint down over time. It can also impact your tooth alignment and the way you chew your food, according to one article.

What to Do If You Experience Persistent Jaw Pain

Is your jaw pain out of hand and affecting your daily life? If so, here are some suggestions:

  • Apply a heating pad or ice pack onto the painful area.
  • Give your jaw a break by eating soft foods when you can.
  • Talk to your doctor about prescription medicine, or consider over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol or Advil.
  • Try some jaw and TMJ exercises throughout the day when you have time.

Another thing to do is schedule an appointment with a dentist near you. It’s especially important to do this if your jaw pain doesn’t go away after trying the techniques above or if your jaw feels extremely painful or sore.

Visiting the dentist twice each year for a cleaning or when you experience dental problems is important to help catch early signs of TMJ and other conditions. There has been an increase in dental problems caused by stress since the pandemic started, so taking the time to meet with a dentist is paramount to stay on top of your dental health.

Stress Management Techniques for Jaw Pain Relief

Learning how to stay in control of your stress can be helpful in getting rid of jaw pain and general TMJ pain. Here are some ideas:

  • Practice deep breathing whenever you feel stressed.
  • Enjoy a nice bubble bath to relax your entire body, including your jaw.
  • Get some rest.
  • Meditate anytime you notice rising stress levels.
  • Spend time doing yoga and full-body stretches to get a good handle on your stress.
  • Talk to a counselor or trusted friend about what you’re going through.

We Can Help Alleviate Your Jaw Pain

It might feel like your jaw pain will be around forever if you have TMJ. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can overcome jaw pain in no time with the right TMJ treatment.

Here at 21st Century Dentistry, we are dedicated to giving you the help you need. We know that TMJ is stressful and painful, and you deserve to get rid of these symptoms and feel great again.

We start by doing an evaluation to diagnose TMJ or TMD dysfunction so that we can help you get the best treatment for your symptoms. Then, we move forward with the treatment. With our help, managing your jaw pain has never been easier.

Tired of the constant jaw pain and other symptoms you get from TMJ? 21st Century Dentistry is here to help. Call us now at (615) 560-7382, or get in touch online to get a head start on feeling better.

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