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4 Stress Lowering Tips for TMD TMJ Headache Relief

8 min read
by JS Dental Lab |

Have you ever wondered if stress could really give you a headache or if the pain was an annoying coincidence?

The truth is, it’s not just “in your head.” If you have ongoing stress, that — or any other anxiety-inducing problem — could very well bring on your headaches. 

Studies show that stress causes chronic physical and mental health symptoms. If you’re living with daily stress, you could develop bruxism, a subconscious teeth clenching and grinding behavior. 

Bruxism tightens your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) muscles, which … drumroll, please … leads to headaches.

Maybe you can’t drop the person or thing causing you stress like a hot potato, but you also can’t keep living with headaches and other health issues. 

When you lower your stress levels, you’ll find your TMJ headaches start disappearing, too!

Ahead, we’ll discuss tips for lowering your stress and reducing your TMJ headaches.

Stress and TMJ Disorders

Let’s clarify an important point before we move into exactly how stress and your TMJ pain are related.

During your research and discussions with your doctors, you will hear two acronyms: TMJ and TMD. People often use TMJ and TMD interchangeably, but there is a distinction between the two.

TMJ Versus TMD

TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint we talked about earlier. It’s the physical part of your body that connects the skull and jaw. 

On the other hand, TMD is short for a temporomandibular joint disorder. So, your TMJ can be just fine, doing its thing, chewing and talking as usual. But as soon as there’s a consistent problem and it can’t do its job normally, you now have a joint disorder

In short, your TMJ needs some extra TLC to correct its TMD.

Disorders of the Joint

Considering the TMJ is so tiny, it’s hard to imagine that it could be the culprit of so much pain. In reality, this sensitive joint can cause substantial problems if it becomes damaged. The slightest inflammation or irritation knocks it out of alignment, and the rest of the jaw muscles and tendons don’t operate as they’re supposed to.

A diagnosis of TMD is a general one that refers to one of multiple disorders. Yours may result from overuse (i.e., too much talking or chewing gum) or an injury. 

Autoimmune diseases often cause TMJ deterioration, and an untreated infection can eat away at the joint.

However, a predominant cause of TMD is bruxism, and it’s a Catch-22 for people who have grinding-induced TMD: the disorder is caused by grinding; stress causes you to grind, and the symptoms of TMD add to your stress.

Learn more about this connection with our post: Stress and Bruxism: How to Stop Teeth Grinding

Understanding the Two Types of Bruxism

If you’ve been diagnosed with (or think you have) stress-related TMD caused by bruxism, it's best to address it in your life’s physical and mental sectors. 

There are two types of teeth grinding: awake and sleep. Your bruxism type affects the solution options you have.

In awake bruxism, your jaw repeatedly clenches and grinds until the teeth make contact, or the jaw moves back and forth. It’s almost always unconscious at first and happens when you’re dealing with something stressful. 

The good news with this type of bruxism is that when you recognize the symptoms, you notice what you’re doing and can stop it.

Sleep bruxism is the rhythmic or non-rhythmic movement of the jaw when you’re slumbering. It falls under the category of sleep-related movement disorders. If you have sleep bruxism, there’s a good chance you have or will develop other sleep disorders, like sleep apnea.

Are you Grinding? Watch for These Symptoms

Many people with sleep bruxism don’t realize it until they start to notice signs that there’s a problem. By that point, the damage is well underway. The earlier you catch the condition, the quicker you can prevent further harm to your body.

Symptoms of awake and sleep bruxism include:

  • Those tension headaches or migraines you’re dreading
  • Eroding tooth enamel
  • Chipped or cracked teeth (craze lines)
  • Tooth pain and sensitivity
  • Jaw muscle sensitivity
  • Neck, face, and/or jaw pain
  • Earaches unrelated to ear trouble
  • Fatigue from disrupted sleep

You may have all or some of these symptoms. Since any change in your body’s regular activity causes it to work harder to heal itself, you also have extra stress, whether you realize it. 

The solution to all of these issues could be as easy as eliminating as much stress as possible.

Related: What’s Stress Got to Do With It?

Lowering Your Stress Hormones Naturally

women in a workout/stretch class to lower stress

You might be surprised to realize that stress is not an external factor. It’s a physiological response your body has to things it perceives as stressful.

When your brain considers something stressful, it triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol. 

Short-term release of this hormone can save your life. The fight-or-flight system tells us to get out of the way when we see something coming at us.

Long-term high cortisol levels aren’t as beneficial. They often lead to heart disease, diabetes, mood disorders, and sleep disorders such as bruxism.

How to Lower Your Cortisol Levels

Reducing cortisol levels is the first step to feeling better mentally and physically. But the first way to lower your cortisol levels is to reduce stress. It seems like an endless cycle.

Try these tips to start reducing your cortisol production naturally:

  • Try to stick to a bedtime routine that promotes restful sleep. When you’re sleeping, your body has time to reset and heal from the day’s damages.
  • Squeeze some activity into your day. At least 10-15 minutes of movement will help your body release some excess cortisol.
  • Recognize when your thoughts lead you down a stressful path and try to shift gears. Learn ways to keep your thoughts positive instead.
  • Practice deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or go for a walk in nature. Calming your body and mind naturally decreases your cortisol levels.

Remember, reducing stress isn’t an instant or overnight process. Use these tips regularly, and you’ll be training your body to control how it handles stress. 

In the meantime, those headaches may still be plaguing you, and to get rid of them, you’ll have to take an active role in what’s causing your stress.

Discover: Can You Use Essential Oils for Teeth Grinding?

Actively Reducing Stress

Taking an active role in lowering your stress levels is the fastest way to long-term better quality of life. For some people, this means making significant lifestyle changes.

Your environment plays a massive role in your body’s stress production. When you’re always on high alert, your cortisol levels run rampant, wreaking havoc on your internal systems.

In those situations, your body is always in fight-or-flight mode, but you get so used to it, you learn how to adjust (aka, ignore the problem). 

Unfortunately, the stress continues to do damage, and it shows up in behaviors like subconscious teeth grinding.

Boundary Setting Reduces Headaches

Are you dealing with toxic people or a toxic environment frequently? You know, the kind of person or place you dread encountering because you know you’re going to leave feeling drained?

Those people and places increase your stress and indirectly cause your headaches. You don’t have to eliminate them until you’re ready, but you can set boundaries.

Having Limits is Healthy

Setting limits is a key part of every healthy relationship. We all have our internal views on what’s okay and not. These are our boundaries, the things that, when crossed, cause us to feel disappointed, angry, or resentful.

Some are obvious, like “You should not steal my wallet when I’m in the bathroom,” or, “You can use my hairbrush, but not my toothbrush.”

Others are less common, and you need to state them clearly. If someone is causing you discomfort, they’re crossing boundaries you might not even know you have. 

Think about why dealing with a person or place leaves you exhausted. 

Does the person demand you drop everything you’re doing and help them without asking if it’s okay? 

Are they constantly belittling you or someone else around you, and you don’t like it?

Is the environment dark and windowless, but you crave sunshine and fresh air?

By figuring out why you’re stressed, you can set and enforce boundaries to minimize the impact your environment and those in it have on you. This will quickly have a butterfly effect on the rest of your life, including your headaches.

See also: Can TMJ Be Treated?

Minimizing Your Headaches and Other Symptoms

close-up of a hand with a pill in it

Maybe you don’t think it’s toxicity causing your stress, and you could be right. 

It could be that your headaches and pain create the high cortisol levels. They can derail your carefully planned day, which leads to a vicious cycle of more stress.

You’ve worked on ways to lower your body’s stress hormone and knock out some things in your life causing you anxiety. 

Now, let’s see how we can reduce headaches and pain for good (or, at least, long enough for you to enjoy your day).

Tips to Reduce Headaches and TMD Pain

A simple, effective method of symptom reduction is a night guard. These oral appliances reduce the teeth damage clenching and grinding causes.

With a custom-made night guard from JS Dental Lab, your top and bottom teeth don’t touch. It reduces the pressure from your lower jaw when you clench, limiting your facial pain and preventing enamel damage. 

Without that strong clench and grind movement, the rest of your jaw and neck can heal, and your headaches will go away.

Oral Remedies for TMJ Headache Relief

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory meds like ibuprofen can help reduce some of the pain from a TMJ headache. 

For a holistic resolution, try these natural pain relief supplements:

  • CoQ10 - CoQ10 can reduce migraine headaches with no serious side effects. Check with your physician before trying this supplement if you are on an anticoagulant, use insulin, or are undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Feverfew - People who suffer from migraines and chronic headaches may reduce symptoms when they take feverfew regularly. Side effects include digestive issues and possible allergic reactions.
    • Magnesium - Low magnesium is a potential cause of headaches. Keeping your levels up with daily magnesium in dietary supplements may help. However, high doses of this supplement can be dangerous. Talk to your doctor before adding magnesium to your daily vitamin and mineral intake.

    As with any supplement, it can take some time for these solutions to become effective. 

    When you want to get rid of your headache now (or, even better, yesterday), try treatment options like an ice pack across your forehead or a hot shower. The temperature change almost immediately opens your blood vessels, letting oxygenated cells through to your brain. 

    Plus, taking a hot shower or relaxing with your eyes closed and a cool cloth over your forehead is soothing. The day’s stresses can wait until you’re ready to deal with them.

    It could be precisely what you need for instant relief!

    You may also like: What is an Occlusal Guard? How Does it Work?

    Conclusion

    Constant headaches are causing you stress, and stress is causing your headaches. The common factor might be a TMJ disorder leading to grinding and clenching.

    However, you don’t have to let your headaches and other TMJ symptoms interrupt your life. 

    The solution could be something as simple as a custom-made night guard from JS Dental Lab to fix your oral health problems and a few well-placed boundaries for your overall wellness. 

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