Just Ahead: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…and the Most Stressful

The countdown to the holidays has begun. Your calendar is filling up. You’ve got parties to attend, and some to plan. Shopping, cooking, wrapping, entertaining – there’s not a moment to spare. Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but with so many time constraints and so many folks to please, it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year.

As your dentist, I’m reminding you holiday stress and anxiety can cause your TMJ to flare up. If you’ve never been diagnosed with TMJ, and you’re suddenly being plagued by headaches, pain in and around your ear; tenderness in the cheek and jaw; pain and difficulty chewing – TMJ might be the culprit. Here’s why:

The jaw is one of the most complex joints in your body. You have two temporomandibular joints which work together as a pair – one in front of each ear. The joints connect the lower jaw bone to the temporal bones of the skull on each side of the head. The muscles controlling the joints are attached to the mandible, and allow the jaw to move up and down, side to side, and forward and back. When you open your mouth, the rounded upper ends of the mandible on each side of the jaw (the condyles) glide along the joint socket at the base of the skull. They slide back to their original position when you close your mouth. To keep this motion working smoothly, a soft tissue disc lies between the condyle and the socket. This disc absorbs the shock to the joint from chewing and other movements. With this intricate network of muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues, if and when the joints become misaligned, the muscles can spasm – and you’re in pain.

Nearly 12% of the population (or 35 million people) in the US suffer from TMJ. Most folks have relatively mild or periodic symptoms which may improve with self-care practices like eating soft foods, applying ice or moist heat, and avoiding extreme jaw movements.

However, the relationship between stress, anxiety and TMJ can be complicated. If you’re experiencing any jaw, head, neck or shoulder pain, make an appointment and let’s get to the bottom of it before it adversely impacts your holiday plans.