Can stress cause TMJ flare up? TMJ is caused by a number of things, but is stress one of them? I’ve suffered extreme stress as an entrepreneur and I wanted to find out if it was a cause of TMJ. Read on to find out more.
Note: In this post, I will refer to the disorder as both ‘TMJ’ and ‘TMD’. The two terms are pretty much used to mean the same thing.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull on both sides of your head, just beneath your ears The joint works by moving back and forth, up and down and from side to side. The joint works all day long with this full range of motion. When you chew, yawn, talk or do anything else with your mouth, it’s moving.
Temporomandibular joint disorder is painful and can affect daily life. The symptoms can include a whole range of nasty stuff, such as chronic ear pain and even a locked jaw. Temporomandibular disorder is most common in people who are between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are more likely to develop it than men are.
TMD flare-up symptoms
TMD pain can be unbearable. Here are some of the painful symptoms of TMJ disorder:
- It is possible to experience mild to severe general jaw pain when you have a TMJ flare-up
- Chronic headaches are quite common during TMJ flare-ups
- Earaches are a potential TMD symptom
- You may experience significant muscle pain in the neck area or in the shoulders
- Many TMD sufferers complain of difficulty when trying to open their mouth wide
- A ‘locked jaw’ can be a symptom. The jaw can be locked in place when the mouth is open or closed
- You may experience a clicking or popping of the jaw
- TMJ sufferers often report that their face feels tired, or even that they have a dull ache in their facial muscles
- There can be some real difficulty when chewing food
- Ringing in the ears (sometimes extremely loud ringing), or Tinnitus, can be a symptom
- Sometimes there may be some differences in the way your teeth fit or ‘sit’ together
- The side of the face may be swollen
- Dental problems and pain, with sometimes very severe cases affecting oral health in the long term
As you can see, TMJ can cause chronic pain. From frequent headaches to shoulder pain, all of the symptoms outlined above can be quite uncomfortable and distressing.
The main causes of TMJ
There are a number of causes of TMJ, including damage to the jaw area and joints and the soft tissue around that area. Alongside these general issues, the most common causes of TMJ include:
- Arthritis in the TMJ area
- Acute trauma such as bruising or broken bones
- A poor bite or ‘improper bite’. This is where your top and lower jaw may not meet properly and your upper and lower teeth do not sit well together. You can experience problems with speech and eating if you have an improper bite. As well as this, your teeth can wear away because of it. Dental work can help.
- Teeth grinding and jaw clenching
Yes it’s true. Stress can cause TMJ flare ups. I will take a look at how this can be managed later in this post, but if you want to jump there now, go here.
Can stress cause TMJ flare up? – TMJ treatment
There are many ways your healthcare provider can deliver TMJ treeatment. Obviously, your physician will guide you with an accurate diagnosis, but below is a list of common ways to deal with TMJ:
These treatments will be non-invasive.
- Use hot or cold packs. If you suffer from severe pain then apply a hot or cold compress or cold pack to the jaw and the temple. Your doctor may advise you to do some simple stretching exercises for your jaw. If they do, apply the packs afterwards.
- Keep your food soft. I’m not talking baby food, but opt for softer stuff. Avoid chewy foods (like toffee) and particularly hard foods like hard candy. You don’t want to eat sticky foods either. Soft foods will help protect you from TMJ.
- Avoid extreme jaw movement. When you yawn, that is classed as ‘extreme’. Chewing is also a no-no. If you have TMJ then avoid these kinds of movements. It will place less pressure on your jaw.
- Splints and nightguards. Ask your physician for guidance on which one to wear. The nightguard is obviously worn at night and the splint is worn during the day. Both help to ensure your teeth are meeting properly when your mouth is closed.
- Keep your teeth slightly apart. This puts less pressure on the jaw.
- When you are on the phone, don’t rest it between the shoulder and the ear. This will help you maintain good posture and protect your neck muscles. It will also mean that your jaw is not stretched.
- Use regular pain medication that deals with inflammation, such as Ibuprofen.
You should only really need to have TMJ surgery after all other possible treatment options have been unsuccessful.
TMJ surgery is divided into three separate areas:
- Arthrocentesis. This is a minor surgical procedure and you will find that it is usually completed under local anaesthetic in a doctor’s office. This is an option that you can have if your jaw locks and your mouth is stuck in the closed position. Needles are inserted into the joint area and the fluid inside the needles washes out the joint.
- Arthroscopy. This involves a general anaesthetic. The surgeon makes an insicion in front of your ear and then inserts an instrument that has a light. This allows the surgeon to view what is going on inside the joint. The surgeon may remove a small amount of tissue or even realign part of the joint area.
- Open-joint surgery. This is the most invasive and will involve general anaesthesia. This surgery will only be carried out in the most serious of situations, including those where there is significant scarring in the joint.
Stress levels and TMJ
As I mentioned earlier in this post, TMJ flare-ups can be caused by increased stress levels. All sorts of things can cause stress. Recently, many people had problems due to the stress of covid-19, for example.
This blog is all about business, entrepreneurship and making money. I know that one of the biggest problems that entrepreneurs can face is stress. When you’re trying to create and run a business, you’re going to experience stressful times.
Stress can be an underlying cause of TMD. So here are a few actionable tips to help you take proper care, and reduce the amount of stress in your life.
Empty your head
Your head needs to be emptied of work stuff at least once a day. Some breathing exercises and meditation techniques can be the best way to manage this. Don’t worry about going all ‘Zen’ on this. If you want to really dig into meditation, do so. Otherwise, just find somewhere to sit quietly and relax. That’s a solid step in the right direction.
Taking a deep breath and then releasing it slowly is the simplest way to cleanse your mind. Do it a few times and then just sit back and reflect. I think you’ll be amazed at how this can reduce your stress levels.
One of the very best ways to reduce stress is to maintain an active lifestyle. Even taking the dog for a walk is good for this. People who maintain physical activity every day feel more relaxed and suffer less stress. Start a sport or hobby that involves physical activity. It’s easier than you think and it can reduce stress.
Talk to people
It’s always good to get out and talk to people. It’s ideal to talk to other entrepreneurs, but even just the people in the local store can offer you a respite from your hard work through a nice chat. Get out from behind your desk and meet real people. The more you engage with others the less stressed you will be. And if you are experiencing times of stress, there is nothing better than talking about it.
Forget all those ‘serial entrepreneur’ (possibly the most annoying phrase in the world) types in the media talking about their morning routines and general inhuman ability to work 24 hours a day. Sure, you can pull an all-nighter every now and then, but the more sleep you have, the better you will feel. It will have a direct impact on your quality of life, and you won’t experience as much stress either.
The magic number? That’s 8 hours of sleep a night. Always has been and always will be.
So can stress cause a TMJ flare up?
Absolutely. Alongside all the causes outlined above, stress can cause a flare up and aggravate things to the point where it gets painful. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs experience stress on a daily basis.
If you manage the stress you experience by clearing your head and taking exercise, as well as getting better sleep, you can give yourself a chance of avoiding TMJ symptoms. The good news is that stress relief is not a complicated thing.
Some links around stress and TMJ for further reading:
I hope this post was useful. If you want to find out how to make more money, try my most popular post on starting your own ice vending machine business.