The Surprising Connection between Mental Health and Facial Pain

By November 1, 2022 December 7th, 2022 TMJ Disorder
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Chronic jaw pain, headaches, and migraines can have many underlying causes. Dental misalignment, damaged teeth, and tooth grinding can all contribute to facial pain and TMJ disorder. But you may be surprised to learn that your mental health can also play a huge role. 

Stress, depression, and anxiety take their mental and emotional toll. They can also manifest themselves physically, affecting your digestion, your blood pressure, and your joints. Dr. Timothy Mickiewicz takes a holistic approach to the treatment of facial pain. In addition to addressing oral and functional issues, he will take your mental health into account. He works with a group of like-minded medical professionals and can recommend an appropriate mental health expert, if desired. 

Whether your facial pain is purely physical in origin or there is a mental health connection, you will receive outstanding care at our San Diego, CA, office. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Stress, Anxiety, and Jaw Pain

One of the most common reasons for facial pain is bruxism, or chronic teeth grinding and clenching. The constant pressure on your jaw can cause muscle inflammation, as well as structural damage to your temporomandibular joints. For example, the cushioning discs in the center of your joints could slip out of place. 

In turn, the most common reason for bruxism is stress and anxiety. Some scientists speculate that this is due to the fight or flight reaction. When you are under stress, your body naturally releases cortisol. And your muscles go into a heightened state of alertness, tense and ready for action. All muscles are affected, including those that control jaw movement. 

This connection is especially troublesome when you consider the statistics. According to a recent study, nearly 20% of Americans suffer from anxiety. Furthermore, a 2021 survey of dentists found that 70% of practitioners had experienced an increase in patients suffering from bruxism. 62% were seeing more patients suffering from TMJ disorder, headaches, and chronic facial pain.

Signs that You May Be Struggling with Your Mental Health

There can be many reasons that you suffer from jaw pain, so this is not automatically a sign that you are dealing with undiagnosed mental health concerns. But if you also struggle with any of the symptoms of anxiety, it is likely that your emotional health is contributing to your jaw pain. These symptoms can include: 

  • Nervous or restless feelings, often without any noticeable cause
  • A sense of looming catastrophe 
  • Spinning and/or fixated thoughts
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping 
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating 
  • Shakiness
  • Digestion problems
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained pain (in the face or otherwise)
  • Irritability 
  • Chest pain

Depression is a separate diagnosis, but it often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Chronic feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in things you once looked forward to
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Reduced appetite 
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Feeling like you are worthless or feeling guilty without cause
  • Slowed thinking and reactions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you have ever had thoughts of self-harm, you should seek help right away.

Treating Clinical Anxiety

Everyone goes through periods of stress. For some people, the ordinary pressures of life can cause them to clench and grind their teeth. But if feelings of anxiety are ongoing or continue after a stressful event is over, you may be dealing with clinical anxiety. In these instances, medical treatment from an experienced practitioner can be a tremendous help. 

Counseling or therapy can provide an outlet, allowing you to talk about current pressures or past trauma that is impacting your mental health. An experienced therapist or counselor can also help you identify things that may be contributing to your anxiety. 

Anti-anxiety medications may also be appropriate in conjunction with therapy. 

The treatments and medications are similar for both depression and anxiety, so both conditions are likely to improve when you seek appropriate care. Dr. Mickiewicz can refer you to a trusted mental health professional in the Sacramento area.

Lifestyle and Habits

Along with medications, a therapist or counselor can also guide you in making lifestyle changes that can ease your anxiety. Even if you do not suffer from clinical anxiety, the following steps can help you deal with stress: 

  • Exercise: Aerobic activity releases neurochemicals which directly combat anxiety. Just 30 minutes of exercise three or more times a week can noticeably reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. 
  • Prioritize sleep: Ironically, anxiety can often disrupt sleep. But getting a good night’s rest is also one of the best ways to combat anxiety. Try to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends. Avoid screens 30 minutes before bed, and sleep in a cool, completely dark room.
  • Examine your diet: There are many diets that promise to cure anxiety with no need for medication. Evidence to support these claims is lacking, but it is true that a balanced, healthy diet can help stabilize your mood. In particular, avoid “sugar crashes,” which can have a huge effect on your emotions. Balance starches with proteins, limit refined carbs and sugars, and be sure to eat a healthy breakfast every morning. 
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine: Both alcohol and caffeine can worsen the symptoms of depression and anxiety. They can also have a negative interaction with some common anti-anxiety medications. Your mental health care provider may advise you to cut back your alcohol and caffeine consumption, or you may need to avoid these substances entirely.
  • Journaling: Journaling can be an excellent way to process your thoughts and work through situations that may be causing you stress. There are many ways to journal, including both written and visual journals.

Treating Your Jaw Pain

Although facial pain is just one symptom of stress and anxiety, it can be one of the most debilitating. Fortunately, Dr. Mickiewicz can provide outstanding oral care, helping to form a treatment team that will address every aspect of your physical and mental health

Treatments for chronic facial pain may include:

  • Oral appliances
  • Orthodontia, including standard braces, retainers, expanders, Invisalign®, and Acceledent®
  • Trigger point injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications, including both anti-inflammatories and anti-anxiety prescriptions

Contact Dr. Mickiewicz Today

It’s time to break the vicious cycle of chronic pain and mental health issues. Contact our Sacramento, CA, office to learn more about treatment for facial pain and to receive a personal diagnosis. 
Request an appointment or ask questions directly on our online contact form. You can also call us at 916-469-9178.