TMJ, Stress, and Jaw Clenching: Understanding The Link & Exploring Solutions

TMJ, Stress, and Jaw Clenching: Understanding The Link & Exploring Solutions

Stress has become all too common today. It can manifest in itself in many ways and the consequences can be long-lasting. TMJ and its symptoms, like jaw clenching, can be a health risk associated with stress. How does stress lead to TMJ, and how can a dentist help? Let us find out.

Understanding TMJ

TMJ, or Temporomandibular Joint, is a sliding hinge that connects your jaw to the skull’s temporal bones. With one on each side of your jaw, TMJ has several complex actions to perform. Disorders of this joint can lead to pain, headaches, and even difficulty in moving the jaw. The most common signs include discomfort while chewing, swallowing, talking, yawning, and a sensation of the jaw being locked. If these joints do not move in sync, several other problems can arise. TMD/ TMJD, also called Temporomandibular Disorder, is a common musculoskeletal condition that results from a dysfunctional TMJ. Every year, millions of Americans suffer from this troubling disorder. If left untreated for long or entirely, discomfort can radiate towards the head, neck, shoulders, and other body parts.

How Stress Triggers TMJ Disorders?

Stress is an invisible aggravator of a lot of health conditions, sometimes manifesting itself physically. For many, the jaw becomes the primary victim. Under the constant pressure of work, family and other daily stressors, people tend to adapt to several unconscious behaviors, of which teeth grinding or clenching is common, especially during sleep. This can be one of the fastest ways leading to TMJ-related disorders like bruxism – a significant stress marker.

Bruxism is a potential precursor to TMJ issues, often unnoticed because it mostly happens while you are asleep. Over time, untreated bruxism can lead to tooth damage and increased sensitivity. Managing TMJ and its symptoms is not just about alleviating pain; it is about improving your overall quality of life. If you are experiencing any signs or are just curious about potential treatments, don’t wait. Consult an expert, such as the specialists at Mitchell Dental Spa, for relief and more information on your unique circumstances.

Signs That Your TMJ Is Stress-Induced

TMJ disorders can arise from various factors, including arthritis, trauma, and anatomical issues. However, stress is a common trigger for most individuals. Several studies indicate that stress can cause muscle spasms and disharmony, subconsciously contributing to frequent clenching. The exact cause of TMJ remains unknown, but trauma is most linked with TMJ pain and discomfort. Women aged 18 to 44 are also more likely to experience TMJ. A family history of inflammation and high stress again puts you at risk of this condition. When TMJ symptoms are stress-induced, they often overlap with other stress indicators. Here are some clear signs that suggest your TMJ issues might be resulting from stress:

  • Bruxism (unconscious teeth grinding and clenching)
  • Jaw muscles feel sore after waking up or at nighttime
  • Headaches originating near the temples or radiating through the jaw
  • Difficulty in opening or closing the mouth fully
  • Ear pain or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Muscle tension throughout the body
  • Sudden misalignment in bite
  • Clicking sounds in the jaw
  • Facial swelling
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive issues
  • Mood swings or increased irritability

A Dentist’s Role in Providing Relief

Anxiety and emotional tension can cause you to clench your jaw more often than usual. Eventually, the health of your nervous system is also jeopardized. If all that is left unaddressed, your body’s response to stress amplifies and is unregulated. There is an imbalanced fight or flight response that misaligns your TMJ due to chronic muscle tension.

While it might seem counterintuitive, Dr. Margaret Mitchell, an experienced TMJ dentist, could hold the key to your relief. Beyond recommending mouthguards or at-home relaxation techniques, many expert dentists now leverage Botox and other innovative treatments for TMJ and bruxism. Botox is quickly gaining traction, as it can provide immediate relief when injected into specific jaw muscles. You might need several sessions over a few months, but it helps ease muscle tension and reduces pain. Schedule an tappointment with Dr. Margaret Mitchell, one of the most experienced Botox dentists in Chicago, to make informed choices.

Treatment Options

If you are experiencing TMJ problems, Dr. Mitchell at Mitchell Dental Spa can offer several choices depending on the severity and cause of the issue. Here are some common options provided:

Dental Splints

Splint therapy is pain-free, effective, and easy to comply with. Your TMJ dentist may suggest using bite guards, bite plates, or stabilization splints to reduce pressure on the jaws and relieve pain.

Mouth Guards

Mouth guards are often the first line of treatment for TMJ disorders. These custom-made devices fit over your teeth to reduce jaw clenching and bruxism, alleviate muscle tension, and protect the teeth from wear. Mouth guards aren’t a comprehensive solution, but they work best for beginners.

Physical Therapy

This is another popular solution for a customized treatment but not directly provided by a dentist. Your TMJ dentist may refer you to a physical therapist specializing in related disorders who can further help you strengthen jaw muscles and reduce discomfort. They may use techniques like massages, ultrasound, and heat/cold treatments to improve function and cater to your unique needs.

Bite Correction

A misaligned bite can significantly contribute to TMJ issues. Dr, Mitchell, the dentist/owner of Mitchell Dental Spa can help correct this through orthodontics, bite adjustment, or other necessary dental work.


Most cases of TMJ disorders may require some over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, to alleviate the symptoms. However, extreme cases might need prescription pain relievers or muscle relaxants.

Botox Injections

More and more dentists today are using Botox to treat severe TMJ disorders. Botox can relieve pain by soothing the muscles around the jaw. It is a safe, non-invasive, and effective treatment option for TMJ prevention.


Recognizing and eliminating behaviors that worsen TMJ disorders, such as biting nails, chewing gum, or holding a phone between the shoulder and ear, can be helpful. Again, your dentists might not always provide counseling, but they can advise you on which behaviors to avoid or refer you to another specialist for comprehensive management.

Surgical Procedures

Ideally, surgery is the last resort for TMJ treatment. If necessary, types of TMJ surgeries include arthrocentesis, arthroscopy, and open-joint surgery. Consider these only after expert advice and when all non-invasive remedies are exhausted. Consult the Mitchell Dental Spa TMJ specialists for a correct diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

Struggling With TMJ? We Can Help.

Stress and anxiety are typically a part of life. In challenging situations, your heart rate increases, senses sharpen, breathing quickens, and muscles tighten. That is how the body responds under normal circumstances.

These responses help your body react proactively and protect you in emergencies. Experiencing such reactions chronically, unfortunately, increases the risks of developing other major health issues, especially if it is affecting your jaws. Since there is a common association between stress and teeth grinding or jaw clenching, talk to Dr. Mitchell to help you determine the right course of action for your issues. Book an appointment today to get started.


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