Stress and TMJ

Stress and anxiety are a normal part of the body’s way of dealing with difficult situations. With the start of a new year and people returning to work and universities with a pandemic still reeling in the background, the incidence of stress and anxiety is increasing in the general population. How is this stress affecting us and our bodies? What can we do to manage it?

Stress is perceived differently in everyone’s body. Some people get headaches, heartburn, insomnia, weakened immune system, high blood pressure, stomach ache or even tensed muscles. In long term, it can also contribute to conditions such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, obesity, headaches, anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s and aging.

In dentistry, individuals who are stressed tend to exhibit symptoms of tooth grinding, gum disease, dry mouth and if impacting on their regular diet, it can also be seen as an increase in dental caries. The effect of clenching and grinding habits can also have an effect on your TMJ.

What is TMJ?

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ), also known as the jaw joint, is one of the complex and frequently used joint in our body. It allows the jaw to open, close, move to the sides and forward. It plays an important role in functions such as talking, chewing and yawning.

When affected with stress, individuals tend to clench and grind their teeth which subsequently affects the health of their TMJ. TMJ disorders are common, with seven in ten people being affected at some time in their lives. Although one in four people report the symptom to a dentist, only five in 100 seek treatment.

Causes of TMJ disorder

  • Grinding/clenching habit – linked to stress
  • Tension in jaw muscles
  • Missing teeth
  • Injuries such as fracture or dislocation of the jaw
  • Arthritis in the jaw joints;
  • Incorrectly shaped dental fillings or other dental work

Symptoms of TMJ disorder

People suffering from TMJ disorder can exhibit different symptoms. It can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. Common symptoms include limited jaw movement, difficulty opening the mouth, locked jaw, clicking or popping noise while opening mouth, pain when chewing or yawning, pain around ears and cheek, headaches, uncomfortable bite, clenching or grinding of teeth.


An accurate diagnosis is essential to make sure the right treatment is undertaken. During your dental examination, the dentist can check the exact location of pain, review the range of movement or noises in the jaw joint. This is then used to create a treatment plan adequate for your condition.


The treatment for TMJ disorders can help reduce symptoms and restore jaw function. Relief from symptoms may take time if the TMJ disorder has developed over a long period of time. Your dentist may also choose to involve other healthcare professionals such a physiotherapist, chiropractor or GP to reduce the symptoms. Some treatment options may include:

  • Modified diet – For a short period of time, you may need to be on a soft food diet. This is to minimise chewing and to rest the jaw.
  • Warm or cold packs – These can help relax the muscles of the jaw joint and offer relief from pain.
  • Relaxation and stress management – This is a very important step in reducing the causative factors of stress. Learning how to control or manage your stress is very important. Using meditation or breathing exercises can sometimes help to control stress and hence reduce symptoms experienced on the jaw joint.
  • Physiotherapy – We may refer you to a head and neck physio who can introduce exercise, massage and muscle stretching to reduce pain and stiffness in the jaw joint. This can increase the strength and mobility of jaw joints.
  • Splint therapy – Splints or night guards may need to be introduced in some cases where tooth wear is seen from the grinding/clenching habits. These guards are worn at night regularly and can take the pressure off the jaw joints and teeth.
  • Botox therapy – Selected patients can also be offered botox therapy to the jaw joints to help treat symptoms of TMJ disorders. It can decrease the pain, hyperactivity, and dysfunction of the jaw joint.
  • Specialist visit – In cases of severe and chronic pain where initial management has not given any relief, your dentist may choose to refer to a maxillofacial surgeon who can look at extended treatment options as well.

If you are experiencing any form of jaw joint discomfort or pain, have a chat with your professionals at Bite Dental to see how we can help you.

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