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TMJD and Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

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:

  • Dizziness TMJ disorder is linked to many unusual neurological symptoms because there are nerves and blood vessels that go through the back of the jaw that is affected by TMJ disorder. 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 pain. In this way, your day might start-off with a negative tinge and your anxiety might progress throughout the course of the day.
  • Pain Temporomandibular joint disorder also causes various types of pain, including jaw pain and face pain. Long-term pain symptoms seem to be associated with anxiety, probably due to the way that your body responds to the stress of consistent pain.
  • Blinking/Clicking TMJ disorder 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 disorder can find them surprising and frightening. After all, someone that cannot seem to stop blinking may fear that they 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 other distractions. Many people with tinnitus appear to have anxiety, although scientists are unclear why.
  • Other Neurological Symptoms TMJ disorder, 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 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.

Questions? Comments?

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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