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Psychological Effects of TMJ

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Chronic headaches or migraines or chronic jaw or neck pain can make a person not want to wake up and go to work every day. It’s almost impossible to get moving when you’re in so much pain, which can lead to depression quite quickly. Feeling useless, helpless, and unable to accomplish the things you want, need or love to do can send one into a spiral of dark thoughts.

Many people who have TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ disease) have pain not only in their jaw joints, but headaches, neck pain, backaches, and intense facial pain. The medical term is trigeminal neuralgia, or severe facial pain, and it’s been nicknamed ‘The Suicide Disease.’ “Suicide was my only option because I could not take it any longer,” one patient said. “You can’t continue to live when you feel like there is an ice pick being stabbed in your ear.”

Studies show that suicide rates actually increase in individuals who suffer from long-term pain disorders. Although previous studies associate depression and TMJ pain, research gets complicated when the question arises of whether TMJ pain causes depression or if anxiety and depression are the reason for jaw, face and mouth pain.

In one German study reported in ‘The Journal of Pain,’ 4,000 people were examined, questioned and underwent psychiatric evaluations to try to estimate the risk of depression symptoms and anxiety on people who suffered from TMD pain for longer than four years. The result showed that joint pain was more likely to cause depression, while muscle pain was linked to anxiety.

Interestingly enough, TMJ pain can be a symptom of anxiety or depression, researchers said. “These mental conditions could lead to increased activity in the jaw muscles that could cause inflammation and pain,” they explained.

Chemical imbalances in the brain could also possibly affect people who have depression or anxiety to abnormally process pain, said Dr. Stefan Kindler, University of Greifswald Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery/Plastic Surgery. While the American Pain Society had suggested in the past that depression could be associated with TMJ pain, Kindler and his colleagues found that a definite link.

A 2013 study where researchers analyzed the U.S. Veterans Health Administration’s medical records found those who suffered from migraines or chronic pains were more likely to try to commit suicide. That risk increased if the patient was already suffering from another untreatable or undiagnosed condition.

Although no studies have been done specifically to link TMJ pain and suicide, it is known TMD symptoms can significantly reduce a person’s quality of life. It can even make chewing difficult, leading to malnutrition, anorexia, and other serious conditions.

Because stress increases thoughts of depression, the most important way to get a psychological hold on your TMD is to learn ways to control it. You’re less likely to find yourself feeling hopeless if you have ways to deter the stressful situations you encounter regularly. Seeing a therapist for mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) can provide guidance on how to deal with the condition so you can live a happy, healthy life.

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