The temporomandibular joint is a sophisticated jaw joint responsible for controlling both the opening and closing mouth movements, chewing, communication, yawning and emotional expression. It consists of a network of interconnected muscles, bone tissue, ligaments, and cartilage that connect the lower jaw to the temporal bone. Any injury or underlying health problem affecting the temporomandibular joint and any surrounding structures often lead to temporomandibular (TMJ) disorders characterized by excessive jaw pain, headaches, difficulties in opening the mouth, jaw locking and difficulties to chew.
One of the risk factors contributing to the development and progression of temporomandibular (TMJ) disorders is stress, which is known to trigger and worsen TMJ disorders. Stress and TMJ disorders are linked via various mechanisms among them being;
Increased teeth grinding and clenching
Teeth clenching and grinding are one of the physical manifestations of stress which often occurs unconsciously especially during sleep. This creates a lot of tension and pressure on the jaw muscles associated with pain and discomfort leading to TMJ disorders.
Enhanced activity of the trigeminal nerve
The trigeminal nerve is one of the largest cranial nerves responsible for controlling facial sensation and mouth motor functions including chewing.
Stress triggers increased trigeminal nerve activity and inflammation, a condition is known as trigeminal neuralgia associated with intense and increased facial pain. This creates excessive pressure on the temporomandibular joint leading to the development of TMJ disorders.
Inflammation in the temporomandibular joint
Trauma on the temporomandibular joint caused by teeth clenching and grinding as a result of stress can trigger and mediate the immune system to produce pro-inflammatory cytokines and matrix-degrading enzymes which cause joint inflammation leading to TMJ disorders.
Increased oxidative stress
Stress can lead to the increased oxidative stress at the temporomandibular joint resulting in increased production free radicals which accumulate within the jaw joint leading to excessive tissue damage leading to TMJ disorders. They can also trigger tissue inflammation and activation of proinflammatory cytokines which further enhance the occurrence of TMJ disorders.
To prevent stress associated TMJ disorders, it is recommended to practices stress management techniques such as meditation, relaxation, and exercise which can reduce the chances of developing TMJ disorders.