TMD: When Stress Is A Pain In The Jaw

by Dr. Vareldzis

Stress can make you hurt. It can give you knots in your back, sour your stomach, and keep you up for hours at night. But did you know it can cause pain in your jaw? If you’re waking up in the morning with jaw pain or headaches, you could be suffering from a condition called TMD.

TMJ, TMD, And Bruxism

You have a joint where your jaw meets your skull called the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It’s right near your ear. The TMJ moves your jaw, so it’s what you use whenever you talk, drink, eat, or even laugh. When you start to get problems and pain in the TMJ or surrounding area, that’s called a temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Since TMD always involves the TMJ, some people use either term to talk about joint pain in the jaw.

Doctors are still not exactly sure what causes TMD. Possible causes are when the cartilage that cushions the joint starts to get thin, arthritis in the TMJ, or an injury to the TMJ. Grinding and clenching your teeth unconsciously (called bruxism) can also be the culprit, because all of that grinding puts extra stress on your jaw.

Which is why stress can cause TMD. When you’re under a lot of stress, your body gets tense. That’s what gives you those knots in your back. That same tension can find its way into your TMJ, making the muscles there tired and, well, stressed out. With the TMJ put under extra tension thanks to stress, TMD often is not far behind.

Signs You May Already Have TMD

TMD can be as simple as having a little soreness in your jaw. But for some people, TMD is devastating. Imagine if it hurt to chew or talk, then see how miserable you are! You’ve probably heard of “lockjaw,” which is related to severe TMD. How do you know if you have TMD? There are several signs:

  • Clicking, popping, or similar sounds when you open and close your mouth
  • Difficulty closing your mouth once you open it or vice versa
  • Pain in the jaw, face, neck, or shoulders
  • Chronic headaches, especially in the morning
  • Earaches or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

Thankfully, we take a holistic dentistry approach and have scanning technology that will see how your jaw muscles work, allowing Dr. Vareldzis to detect any TMD issues. But you probably don’t need a scan if you’re having the clicking, popping, and pain described above.

What can you do about it? First of all, don’t ignore it. Even if you magically remove all the stress in your life and suddenly live a relaxed life on a sunny beach somewhere, the damage caused by that stress can linger. You could suffer in pain for a while. Worse, if your TMD mixes with bruxism, you could be hurting your teeth by slowly grinding away the enamel or damaging any previous dental work.

How We Can Help Alleviate TMD

At our office, we can treat your TMD with what’s called a maxillary anterior guided orthotic. (Because that’s a bit of a mouthful, it’s normally called a MAGO splint.) It’s a clear plastic retainer that fits only over the upper teeth. When you wear it at night, it separates your teeth into a good, healthy position that lets your TMJ relax. Over time, this teaches your jaw muscles to slide back to where they’re supposed to be. It also gives those muscles time to relax and heal. And since people who have TMD can also have bruxism, such a guard can help with the teeth grinding as well.

It doesn’t matter if you call it TMD, TMJ, or “that annoying noise and pain you get when you chew.” It’s still something that you don’t have to suffer from. Our dentist in Medford, Oregon can help realign your muscles and relieve the pain, and because we offer family dentistry, we can help everyone in your family. Call us today at 541-930-8036 to speak with a member of our dental team or place your appointment online to learn how we can help.