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TMJ 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 easy to spell acronym "TMJ." TMJ is a disorder that most commonly affects the joint in between the back of the jaw and the skull. TMJ can be a painful condition, and in some cases can lead to the development of anxiety.

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How TMJ 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 and causes a host of different symptoms that can lead to the development of anxiety.

However, it should be noted that TMJ often doesn't cause anxiety - instead, it makes anxiety worse. Make sure you take my anxiety test now to get a better idea of how your anxiety affects treatment.

TMJ causes anxiety as a result of many different unique symptoms. These include:

  • Dizziness TMJ causes many unusual neurological symptoms because there are nerves and blood vessels that go through the back of the jaw that is affected by TMJ. One symptom is dizziness, which can come suddenly and bring a considerable amount of distress.
  • Headaches Morning headaches are a similar symptom. But with headaches, it's not just the headache that causes stress, but also the fact that you start your day with a headache. Morning pain starts every day worse, and there are studies that show that poor starts to the day can actually create anxiety over time.
  • Pain Temporomandibular joint disorder also causes various types of pain, from jaw pain to face pain. Long-term pain symptoms seem to be associated with developing anxiety, probably due to the way that your body responds to the stress of consistent pain.
  • Blinking/Clicking TMJ can also cause blinking and a clicking feeling in the jaw. These are unrelated symptoms, but they're grouped here because those that are not aware they have TMJ can find them surprising and frightening. After all, someone that cannot seem to stop blinking is going to be afraid that they may have some type of dangerous condition.
  • Tinnitus Tinnitus is a ringing in the ear that most people tune out, but in some cases, it can become loud enough to disrupt sleep or cause distractions. Many people with tinnitus appear to have anxiety, although scientists are unclear why.
  • Other Neurological Symptoms TMJ, because of stress on the nerves, can also cause numbness in the arms or legs, tingling in the fingers, involuntary muscle movements, and impaired thinking. Arguably these are the most troublesome symptoms of TMJ but not everyone experiences them.

These are just some of the symptoms that may lead to the development of anxiety. There may also be some chance that the same nerves that cause neurological symptoms may also directly cause anxiety, although anxiety is not currently considered a direct TMJ symptom.

In fact, the greatest risk isn't anxiety, but anxiety attacks. Panic attacks are an anxiety disorder that is often caused by unknown physical sensations. So those with TMJ that experience unknown dizziness and other symptoms may develop panic attacks, and once you've experienced a single panic attack you become at far more risk for future panic attacks.

Anxiety Causing TMJ

There are also some indications that anxiety can actually cause the development of TMJ - which may, in turn, cause the development of 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 symptoms.

Scientists haven't yet definitively said that TMJ could be caused by anxiety, so trust your doctor as far as causes and solutions are concerned. Nevertheless, it may be possible, and indeed if you have anxiety and it causes you to develop TMJ, the symptoms of TMJ may very well exponentially increase the symptoms of anxiety.

How to Control TMJ 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 stop your TMJ and reduce the symptoms.

But remember that while TMJ contributes to anxiety, anxiety isn't literally caused by the disease. Rather, anxiety is a secondary symptom that comes from living with TMJ, and often is already present in those that develop TMJ and the disease simply makes it worse.

So you will need to control your anxiety separately, even if you are living with the disease, and you can do that now by taking my free 7-minute anxiety test. It's a test that was developed to rate the severity of your symptoms and give you a better idea of how to control them.

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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.

Rugh, J. D., and WK_ Solberg. Psychological implications in temporomandibular pain and dysfunction. Oral sciences reviews 7 (1976): 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.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 05, 2017.

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