How Stress, Anxiety and TMD Are Related

If a patient is experiencing persistent pain and tightness in the jaw, temporomandibular joint disorders, often referred to as TMD, may be to blame. While people with this condition typically have similar symptoms, there are several different reasons why a person might develop an issue with the TMJ. One of the most common contributors to this disorder is chronic stress and anxiety.

How stress and anxiety affect the jaw

Nervous tension and worry have many negative effects on the human body, and the symptoms are both emotional and physical. People who live with a lot of stress or anxiety on a daily basis are prone to jaw clenching and teeth grinding even when awake. Over time, these behaviors can wear down on the jaw joint and cause damage to the articular disc and cartilage. If a patient develops TMD, several symptoms may be present in the individual:

  • Popping and clicking noises when moving the jaw
  • Exhibiting difficulty opening or closing the jaw
  • Feeling pain in the jaw, facial muscles and neck
  • Aching in the head and ears
  • Swelling on the sides of the face
  • Experiencing dizziness or tinnitus

Managing stress and anxiety

For people whose tension or nervousness is causing jaw clenching and TMJ pain, learning how to relax and manage these feelings can help. Trying to release pressure or tension often requires more than just zoning out in front of the TV. Relaxation techniques are designed to activate the body’s natural serenity response, which turns off the fight-or-flight reaction, slows the heart rate and normalizes the functioning of the autonomic nervous system. There are several methods a person can use to achieve this state of deep relaxation.

Deep breathing

Patients can practice breathing techniques by finding a comfortable spot to sit or lay and placing one hand on the stomach and the other on the chest. With closed eyes, the patient should breathe in and out deeply through the nose, feeling the stomach move up and down with the breath. It can also help to repeat a single word or phrase with each breath or to picture a peaceful scene. There are several different variations that can help slow breathing and promote tranquility.

Progressive muscular relaxation

This relaxation method requires the patient to tense and then loosen various muscles in the body. The patient should first contract each individual foot and then work up through the legs until reaching the face.

Yoga and exercise

While exercise might get the heart pumping faster for some time, exercise with rhythmic motion helps increase mindfulness and relieve stress. Yoga is a great practice for stress and anxiety relief since it combines several relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and rhythmic movement.


If patients are experiencing TMD, most dentists will ask about their stress and anxiety levels. Many people with this condition clench or grind the jaw together as a response to these feelings and do not even realize they are doing it. While treating TMJ disorders may require more than one method, implementing various relaxation techniques can help the patient relax the jaw and reduce pain.

Request an appointment here or call Calabasas Dental Care at (818) 591-2480 for an appointment in our Calabasas office.