How does stress affect temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)?

Stress and teeth grinding are factors that can lead to possibly developing TMJ, or temporomandibular disorder.

A complex system of muscles, ligaments, discs and bones enable the mouth to open and close, swallow or chew. Any problem that affects this from working properly can result in painful TMJ disorder.

There are several treatments for TMJ disorders. They may include stress-reducing exercises or wearing a mouth protector to prevent teeth grinding.
Stress can trigger as well as aggravate temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ. High levels of stress can cause you to  unconsciously clench your teeth and tighten your jaw muscles, creating added pressure and strain in the joints and muscles of your jaw and face. Eventually, your jaw joints can pull out of alignment, causing pain and discomfort, and the condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder.
The muscles of the jaw are innervated by the same nerve that innervates our flight or fight response when we are stressed. When we are under a lot of stress or not getting enough sleep, the trigeminal nerve becomes overactive. This creates a tension in our jaw muscle, which places abnormal pressure on the TMJ joint causing pain. TMJ joint dysfunction can even lead to a syndrome called "Lock Jaw".

If you are experiencing pain in your jaw you should consult your doctor or dentist.
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Stress makes our jaw do all kinds of dangerous dances of clenching and grinding. The more tension you have, the more you do it. These types of abnormal jaw positioning often begin as myofacial pain disorder (MPD) and develop into temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), both of which are stress-related. Such disorders begin with jaw tightness, muscle soreness and pain. If not treated, they can lead to internal displacement, which disrupts the alignment of the disc that separates the lower jaw from the upper jaw (temporomandicular joint). If you clench or grind your teeth, have your dentist fit you for a night guard and evaluate your bite.
Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

More About this Book

Smile!: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving Smile Beauty

Renowned dentist and creator of the GoSMILE product line Dr. Levine offers this complete guide to getting a whiter, brighter smile. 15 photos & illustrations.

Continue Learning about Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)

How are temporomandibular disorders (TMD) diagnosed?
Dante A. Gonzales, DMDDante A. Gonzales, DMD
Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) symptoms may initially be noticed by your dentist, orthodontist or ...
More Answers
What is temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder?
John Van der Werff, DDSJohn Van der Werff, DDS
It is a disorder that is related to the joint between the lower jaw and head which is right in front...
More Answers
How do the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) work?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
Two joints and several jaw muscles make it possible to open and close the mouth. They work together ...
More Answers
Who can treat temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder?
Dante A. Gonzales, DMDDante A. Gonzales, DMD
Depending on the cause of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, treatment modalities could dif...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.