April is Stress Awareness Month. It reminds us that we need to practice stress management and reduction throughout the year to avoid unpleasant feelings and health complications. When you’re stressed, you feel anxious, moody, and like you aren’t doing a good enough job at whatever you’re doing. There are many stress-related health complications: heart disease, asthma, obesity, migraines, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, and anxiety, and it can accelerate your aging. It stands to reason that reducing your stress can lower your risk of developing any of these diseases or conditions.
There is one health consequence that isn’t on the list. In fact, it doesn’t make most ‘stress-related health problems’ lists. We’re talking about temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ.
What is TMJ?
TMJ is a disorder of your temporomandibular joint. It’s the joint connecting your mandible (lower jaw) to your skull. It sits just below your ears on both sides of your head. When one of these joints is out of balance, it causes jaw pain and other, sometimes debilitating, symptoms.
Your jaw can become off balance due to clenching or grinding your teeth, jaw injury, or genetics. When your jaw is misaligned due to genetics, we see crooked teeth and malocclusion (bad bite). If you’ve had a jaw injury, your TMJ will likely improve as your injury heals unless it changes the position of your jaw. Bruxism—clenching and grinding your teeth—causes inflammation in the joints and muscles, pushing your jaw out of balance and eventually wearing down your teeth to create a bad bite. This is usually caused by stress.
How does stress affect TMJ?
Stress and TMJ have a reciprocal effect. Through bruxism, stress can cause TMJ, and your TMJ pain causes more stress. This kind of cycle can be hard to break free of, but with treatment from your Burkburnett TMJ dentist, you can live free of TMJ pain.
If you’re in a particularly stressful situation that will resolve soon, you may just have temporary TMJ pain. But when the stress is constant, your clenching and grinding become habits causing your teeth to wear down and inflammation to increase. When your temporomandibular joint is inflamed, it causes problems in your trigeminal nerve and ears. Your trigeminal nerve is the largest of your cranial nerves and is responsible for all the feeling in your face and stimulates jaw movement. When inflamed or pushed on, it can cause headaches, migraines, and even tingling in your fingers. Likewise, the workings of your inner ear are very delicate. When they’re pushed out of place, you’ll experience ear congestion, ringing, and earaches.
10 Tips to Reduce Stress
- Exercise: Exercise releases endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are your brain’s natural stress relievers!
- Eat a Healthy Diet: Eating healthy allows your body to repair cells more quickly and gives you the energy to deal with stressors before they become overwhelming.
- Avoid Alcohol, Drugs, Cigarettes, and Caffeine: We know…coffee makes us happy, too. But avoiding stimulants and depressants allows your brain and body to function normally without metabolizing the extra things.
- Practice Relaxation: This one might seem obvious, but make relaxation a priority in your day. Relaxing looks different for everyone, but if you’re feeling stressed, take a break and practice yoga, meditate, get a massage, go for a walk, or simply breathe deeply.
- Laugh More: Laughter is your body’s best medicine. It lets you take in more oxygen, stimulates your heart, muscles, and lungs, and releases endorphins.
- Connect with Others: Connecting with others is huge for your mental health. It offers distraction and a break from your stressor.
- Get Enough Sleep: Your stress just rises when you don’t sleep. Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, and you’ll find yourself less stressed and more apt to deal with stressors.
- Participate in Hobbies: Like connecting with others, hobbies offer a distraction. After some time away from your stressor, you’ll be able to deal with it better.
- Minimize Screen Time: The artificial light of screens stresses your nervous system making you moody and anxious. Try reading a book or playing a card game instead of watching a movie or scrolling through social media.
- Spend Time in Nature: Spending time outdoors reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. Try going for a walk if you’re feeling stressed.
Other TMJ Symptoms to Watch Out For
Jaw pain isn’t the only TMJ symptom that is caused by stress. Watch out for these other symptoms. It might be time to see your Burkburnett dentist if you have many TMJ symptoms.
- Headaches and migraines
- Ear symptoms: Congested ears, earaches, ear ringing
- Difficulty chewing
- Locked jaw
- Clicking and popping when you open and close your mouth
- Shoulder and back pain
- Tingling or numbness in your arms or fingers
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Tooth pain
Check out another blog, TMJ Myths Debunked, to vanquish some common misconceptions.
Treat your TMJ in Burkburnett, TX
If you have TMJ, you can find treatment at Burkburnett Family Dental. Our TMJ doctor, Dr. Kyle Clark, has treated TMJ for many years and continues to further his education on neuromuscular disorders. TMJ treatment looks different for everyone, but you can be sure that Dr. Clark will treat the root cause of your TMJ, not just the symptoms.
Make an appointment today to find out if you have TMJ and how you can live your life pain-free. Call or make an appointment online.