Stress, TMD, And The Awful Cycle Between Them

TMJ Treatment | 2 | Nashua Family Dentistry, Nashua NH

There’s good stress and there’s bad stress. Good stress can help us stay focused and motivated. Remember how fast you managed to clean the house when you found out guests were coming that you did not expect? That was stressful, but it helped you succeed. Bad stress does the opposite. If you’ve had a bad day and then face a speeding ticket on the way home? There’s nothing good that can come from that.

Worse, bad stress has a physical impact on your body. It can make you sick. One way it can hurt you is through jaw pain. This can lead to a condition known as TMD.

What Is TMD? How Is That Different From TMJ?

The terms “TMD” and “TMJ” look similar, so they often get used interchangeably. They are also very related. But they are different.

  • TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. It’s the joint that connects your jawbone to your skull. You have two of them, each right below your ear. Whenever you open your jaw to talk, drink, eat, or even yawn, you are using your TMJ.
  • TMD stands for temporomandibular disorder. It’s when there is a problem with your TMJ that won’t go away or keeps coming back. (In other words, having a sore jaw after having a biking accident is not necessarily TMD. If the problems do not get better, then it probably is.)

TMD Symptoms

Then how do you know if you have TMD? Here are some symptoms that usually indicate you have that disorder.

  • Popping and clicking noises when you chew: When you have TMD, the ligaments and bone disc inside the jaw joint can move suddenly. They snap or click against the rest of the joint, making strange noises. This happens when you use your jaw. It may not happen every time, but if you hear strange noises when you chew or talk, that could be why.
  • Headaches and migraines (especially in the morning): Your TMJ is a part of your head. Since your body is a giant, interconnected system, problems in one spot can easily migrate to other parts. People who suffer from TMD can often get headaches. Sometimes, these are occasional and strike often in the morning. Other times, they can develop into chronic migraines.
  • Neck and upper back pain: Along the same lines, when the jaw joint gets hurt, tension can spread to nearby muscles. TMD can put extra stress on the neck, shoulder, and upper back muscles, leading to soreness and pain.
  • Jaw soreness or pain: Because this is a problem with your jaw joint, it’s probably not surprising that you can suffer from soreness and pain there. TMD can make it hurt to eat and even talk. This is especially true when you wake up.
  • Earaches and tinnitus: To pop your ears, you usually open your mouth. That shows the connection between the two. When your jaw joint suffers from TMD, your ears can suffer as well. Earaches can happen but so can tinnitus, or a ringing in the ear.
  • Jaw stiffness or lockjaw: One of the worst problems with TMD is lockjaw. The joints start to stiffen up, making it difficult to open or close your mouth. In very bad cases, the jaw can mostly lock shut or open.

The TMD Stress Cycle

Stress can cause your muscles to tense up and stay that way for too long. Many people carry tension in their shoulders and neck. Remember how TMD can trigger problems with your neck and shoulders? It goes both ways. If you’re very tense, your neck and shoulder muscles can spread that tension to your TMJ, leading to TMD problems.

Bruxism is a condition marked by unconscious grinding of your teeth. Stress is a cause of bruxism, so if you’re all stressed out, you’re more likely to start that grinding. This puts extra stress on your TMJ when you should be resting it. TMD is not far behind.

Even if you don’t have bruxism, your stress could be causing you to clench your jaw over and over again. This can happen without you even realizing it. Again, all of that extra stress on your TMJ can lead to TMD.

This can create a bad cycle. You’re stressed, so you cause problems with your jaw joints. This creates pain and other TMD symptoms, which stresses you out, which causes more TMD trouble, and so on. You get locked in a TMD stress cycle that doesn’t get better.

TMD Treatment At Our Nashua, NH Dental Office

An effective TMD treatment is a custom mouthguard. It’s made especially to fit your mouth, so it’s comfortable. You wear it at night when you sleep. The guard shifts your jaw slightly. You may not feel any different, but stress will be taken off your TMJ so it has more time to heal. If bruxism is also a problem, this same mouthguard will protect against that as well.

Because of that TMD and stress cycle, reducing your overall stress is also important. You can try meditating, getting proper exercise, eating right, and more. All of that help reduce your stress, which can reduce your TMD problems.

TMD can be a serious problem. Don’t ignore the problem. If you are having headaches, jaw pain, soreness in the morning, or similar problems, call us today at 603-546-7460.

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