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TMJD and Anxiety

Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology
TMJD and Anxiety

Anxiety is a condition that's usually forged over time, through a combination of life experiences and genetics. But in some cases, it's possible for something other than your life history to cause the development of anxiety.

One example is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, known by the acronym "TMJD." TMJD is a disorder that most commonly affects the joint in between the back of the jaw and the skull. TMJD can be a painful condition, and in some cases can lead to the development of anxiety.

How TMJ Disorders Causes Anxiety

It seems strange to think that something that affects a joint in the jaw can lead to anxiety, but TMJ is actually a fascinating disorder, potentially causing a host of different symptoms that can lead to anxiety.

However, it should be noted that TMJ disorder often doesn't cause anxiety - instead, it makes existing anxiety worse. 

TMJ disorder is linked to anxiety as a result of many different unique symptoms. These include:

These are just some of the symptoms that may affect one’s anxiety. It is also possible that the same nerves causing the neurological symptoms may also directly cause anxiety, although anxiety is not currently considered a direct TMJ disorder symptom.

People with this disorder are also at risk of experiencing panic attacks. Panic attacks are an anxiety symptom that is often triggered by sporadic and uncomfortable physical sensations. So, those with TMJ disorder that experience inexplicable dizziness and other symptoms may develop panic attacks as a result, and once you've experienced a single panic attack you become more likely to experience future episodes.

Anxiety Causing TMJ Disorder

There are also some indications that anxiety may actually cause TMJ - which may, in turn, cause more anxiety. Many people with anxiety experience a considerable amount of jaw clenching, especially during sleep, and it's possible that this may lead to an increase in TMJ disorder symptoms. However, at this point more research is required before we can be certain about the link between TMJ disorder and anxiety. 

How to Control TMJ-Related Anxiety

Obviously, the more you can control your TMJ symptoms, the easier it will be to control your anxiety. So make sure that you talk to your doctor about what you need to do to cope with your TMJ disorder. 

But remember that while TMJ disorder contributes to anxiety, anxiety isn't literally caused by the disease. Rather, anxiety is a secondary symptom that comes from living with TMJ disorder, and often is already present in those that develop TMJ. The disease simply makes anxiety symptoms worse. It’s important, then, to treat both the TMJ disorder and your underlying anxiety.

Article Resources
  1. Thomas, Lloyd J., Norman Tiber, and Sylvan Schireson. The effects of anxiety and frustration on muscular tension related to the temporomandibular joint syndrome. Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology 36.5 (1973): 763-768.
  2. Rugh, J. D., and WK_ Solberg. Psychological implications in temporomandibular pain and dysfunction. Oral sciences reviews 7 (1976): 3.
  3. Southwell, J., I. J. Deary, and P. Geissler. Personality and anxiety in temporomandibular joint syndrome patients. Journal of oral rehabilitation 17.3 (1990): 239-243.
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