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About Stress & Jaw Pain

By Lori Newell ; Updated August 14, 2017

Jaw pain can be caused by various diseases, infections or injuries. No matter the cause, stress and tension can sometimes make symptoms worse. When under stress there may be a tendency to hold the jaw muscles tight, which can exacerbate pain. The first step is to have the cause of any jaw pain diagnosed. Along with the proper treatment plan it will be important to learn ways to manage stress to help calm symptoms.

There are many causes of jaw pain. Some of the most common fall under the general category of temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, or TMJ. These disorders can occur on their own or be secondary to another medical condition such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep disorders and others. With these conditions the jaw muscle can become sore or painful. The pain may be localized or it can radiate to the ears and neck. There may be limited range of motion in the jaw muscles and the discomfort may be accompanied by popping and clicking sounds.


Stress is a subjective feeling that differs from person to person. The same event, such as buying a home, may be stressful for one person but not another. In addition, it is not the stressor itself that is the concern but rather the response to it. Stress can cause problems if the situation or stressful event is deemed unmanageable or uncontrollable. If feelings of stress continue for long periods, it can take a toll on the body. This can lead to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms, including jaw pain.


While the exact link between stress and jaw pain is not well understood, it may be possible that a condition called bruxism contributes to symptoms. Bruxism is a condition in which a person grinds or clenches the teeth. This can occur while sleeping or during the day. Misaligned teeth, sleep disorders and chronic medical conditions can cause bruxism. However, it can also be triggered by stress, anxiety, unexpressed anger or feelings of frustration. Over time, this clenching of the jaw muscles can lead to pain, limited range of motion, a wearing down of the teeth and tooth sensitivity.


Treating jaw pain includes both managing stress as well as self-care techniques. When jaw pain occurs, try eating soft foods, using heat or ice, massaging the area, avoiding large movements of the mouth and jaw, using medication to help manage the pain and wearing a mouth guard to help prevent grinding and clenching. Surgery and extreme treatments should be reserved for severe cases after conservative methods fail.


The best bet is to try to manage stress on a daily basis to help prevent the jaw pain from occurring. Learn about personal stress triggers. Then it is important to find healthy ways of managing these triggers. This may include avoiding stressful situations when possible, talking about the triggers to others, keeping a positive attitude, exercising or practicing a meditation or relaxation technique. Not all of the above approaches work for everyone in every situation. Try various techniques and talk to others to find an approach that works. No matter what approach is chosen, managing stress needs to be part of the daily plan to be effective at reducing and/or preventing jaw pain and other symptoms.

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