Stress is one of the most common causes of jaw pain. Stress can also make jaw pain from other problems worse because when people are dealing with stress or anxiety, they tend to focus on discomfort.
Disorders of the jaw joints and muscles are often called temporomandibular joint or TMJ disorders. They can occur on their own or be secondary to another condition like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 10 million Americans are affected by TMJ disorders, and many of these are caused or worsened by stress.
Stress-induced jaw pain makes your jaw muscles sore and painful. The pain can radiate to your head and neck, causing headaches and migraines. You may also have a limited range of motion, and you could hear popping or clicking sounds when you move your jaw.
Stressful situations like being stuck in traffic or having an argument with a spouse trigger the release of cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones that increase heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate. They also cause muscles to tense, which can cause pain over time.
Almost everyone clenches his or her teeth in frustration in particularly stressful moments. If you do this too often, you could wear down your teeth and cause tooth sensitivity and gum disease as well as jaw pain. Many people also clench or grind their teeth at night, while they’re asleep, making mornings very painful. This is called bruxism. Misaligned teeth, sleep disorders, and other medical conditions can make it worse.
A dentist can fit you with a mouth guard or biteguard to reduce dental damage and jaw pain caused by bruxism. A mouth guard keeps your teeth from grinding against each another while you sleep and gives you a softer material to bite on if you still clench your jaw. They’re inexpensive as well. Stabilization splints are similar, but they’re smaller and more comfortable than traditional biteguards. They can reduce teeth grinding by almost 70%.
Sleeping in a more comfortable position also helps reduce bruxism. Special pillows are designed to keep your head and neck in a neutral position to prevent stress on your jaw. When you experience jaw pain, eat soft foods, use hot or cold compresses, massage the area, and avoid large jaw movements. See your doctor and dentist regularly for checkups as many health disorders can make stress-induced jaw pain worse.
You can prevent stress-induced jaw pain by avoiding stressful situations and taking time to relax. Exercise, meditate, or engage in a fun new hobby. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get rid of all stress. If you feel yourself clenching your jaw, then you should relax, take long, deep breaths, and think of something calming, like a beautiful lake. Eventually, you can train yourself to stop clenching your jaw when you’re tense.
Contact Gables Sedation & Family Dentistry to speak with Dr. J. Fornaris, DMD and Dr. R. Esparragoza, DDS and get help with your stress-induced jaw pain. Their new i-CAT 3D imaging machine produces clearer X-rays of specific areas while minimizing radiation exposure. They also offer Invisalign Braces, porcelain veneers, teeth whitening, dental implants, nitrous oxide, and general anesthesia. With sedation, they can help you relax in the dentist’s chair while they help you achieve a beautiful smile.