Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome and Stress

15 October, 2020
Behind temporomandibular joint syndrome lies stress. It causes pain in the jaw that reaches the ear and discomfort when speaking or eating. Continue reading to find out more about its causes and treatment!

Stress and temporomandibular joint syndrome are usually related. Pain and discomfort in the jaw when speaking, yawning, and even eating affect a lot of people. This isn’t a coincidence. In fact, it’s a common problem often discussed during dental consultations and stress and anxiety disorders are the culprits.

Temporomandibular joint syndrome or Costen’s syndrome is basically pain in the area of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. It usually appears in the mornings, just when you wake up and feel a prick in your teeth. It becomes more intense when you try to talk or eat.

From that moment on, other discomforts such as ear congestion, tinnitus, headache, and neck tension may begin. There’s a moment when the discomfort is so intense, diffuse, and constant it becomes overwhelming. Thus, it’s important to know this condition and its triggers.

“Revenge tightens the heart as much as the jaw.”

-Charles de Leusse-

Characteristics, causes, and treatment of temporomandibular joint syndrome

Visualize a hinge when you’re trying to imagine what the temporomandibular joint looks like. It’s the area that connects the jaw to the side of the head. Having this image in your mind might help you realize its importance in your daily activities. Waking up in the morning and yawning is just the prelude to what comes after such as talking, chewing, eating, and drinking.

Also, keep in mind that this is an important joint. This is because the temporomandibular region comprises multiple structures such as the cartilaginous discs, muscles, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, teeth, and finally, it also reaches the ears and the neck area.

Temporomandibular joint syndrome wasn’t well-known until recently, when its incidence began to increase.

A woman with bruxism.

Symptoms of temporomandibular joint syndrome

Stress and temporomandibular syndrome usually appear together. Nevertheless, it’s common for people to consult a dentist due to their discomfort in this region and seldom connect it to an ailment due to psychological upheaval.

On average, temporomandibular pain is more common among women between the ages of 30 and 50. The most common symptoms are:

  • Dental pain.
  • The feeling of having a dislocated jaw.
  • The mandibular area hurts as if you had experienced a blow.
  • The pain is more evident when talking or eating.
  • It’s hard and painful to open the mouth.
  • It’s common to hear clicking sounds when opening and closing the mouth and, also, when chewing.
  • There’s stiffness in the jaw.
  • There’s a pain in or around the ears and in the temples.
  • Also, there are changes in the way you bite.
  • Your teeth are sensitive.
  • Neck pain may occur.
  • Some patients may have tinnitus.
  • There may be headaches.

Causes

Stress and temporomandibular syndrome are closely related. However, it’s always safer to have an expert diagnosis. On average, you must discuss the following triggers with your doctor:

  • Dental disorders due to the bad alignment of the teeth may lead to bruxism and temporomandibular pain.
  • Stress is the trigger in more than 70% of the cases according to a study conducted at Universidad Do Estado in Brazil. It describes how this disorder is increasingly common in the college population. Thus, worries, unmanaged emotions, pressure, and daily problems lead to this discomfort, which is a frequent reason for visiting the dentist.
  • Likewise, the origin may be due to anatomical aspects such as dislocations in the mandibular area, traumatisms, muscular problems, and even neurological alterations.
A woman in pain.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint syndrome

There’s a relationship between stress and temporomandibular joint syndrome. In fact, there’s been an increase in recent years due to the fact that stress and anxiety disorders prevail in the population. This and other physical manifestations limit anybody’s quality of life, no doubt.

In these situations, it’s always a good idea to get the attention and supervision of several experts (doctors and psychologists). For instance, a dentist might opt for the following strategies:

  • Stabilization splints. These are devices for reducing muscle pain when exerting jaw pressure. With them, they can stop bruxism and also modify the sensory stimulation of that area.
  • Physical therapy. A treatment based on mandibular physiotherapy added to splints is also beneficial. It significantly improves the problem.
  • Doctors advise integrating various techniques into your routine in order to manage your stress. For instance, diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, or even yoga can be helpful.

Nevertheless, consult a psychologist if you’ve been dealing with this condition and its symptoms for a while. Insomnia, for example. There are times when people are overwhelmed by both physical symptoms and by the psychological triggers that limit the enjoyment of their lives. Thus, asking for help is the best and most recommended step.

  • Viviane Gontijo Augusto , Keity Cristina Bueno Perina (2016) Disfunción temporomandibular, estrés y trastornos mentales. 2016 noviembre-diciembre; Actas ortopédicas. 24 (6): 330–333. doi:  10.1590 / 1413-785220162406162873