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Is Daily Stress Causing More Than Just Headaches?

Temporomandibular disorders can include a large array of headache problems involving not only the temporomandibular joint, but the muscles involved in chewing and related head & neck muscles. The symptoms of temporomandibular disorders range from migraine headaches, ringing of the ears, locking or clicking of the jaw, or pain in the back of the head or neck. Nearly three-fourths of Americans are familiar with one or more of the symptoms of TMJ.

It is popularly abbreviated as TMJ due to the actual name of the joint involved (temporomandibular joint). The TMJ is located on each side of the head directly in front of the ears; it allows for hinge movements or sliding movements of the jaw. However, when people are under stress they tend to clench their jaw or grind their teeth while awake and during sleep. This stressful force causes pressure on the muscles, and surrounding tissues of the jaw. This additional stress can lead to TMJ disorders. Then, simple acts like chewing, talking or yawning can make symptoms worse.

Dr. McCargar urges patients to obtain a thorough assessment before starting any treatment for TMJ. Often decreasing stress or getting fitted for a nightguard can decrease the pain and the headaches. Rest is the best therapy for TMJ treatment. Other therapy options recommended by Dr. McCargar include: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication for up to two weeks (ibuprofen), temporarily eating softer foods, applying heat to the side of the face involved, and stopping harmful chewing and biting habits (nail biting, tooth grinding, gum chewing).