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March 13, 2023

Stress - Outch, my Jaw Hurts!

A number of years back, my husband and I were each working for large multi-national companies.  As it turned out, both companies were targets of corporate mergers.  At the same time!  As the mergers progressed, each one of us received a notice of lay-off ON the SAME day!

Needless to say, these were stressful times.  It is bad enough when one partner loses their job or gets laid off.  But what are the odds that both are faced with this, simultaneously?  It turned out, I did not manage my stress level adequately, and I made myself literally sick. 

I was getting headaches more frequently.  My left ear would ache, my jaw would hurt.  At one point, I could not even open my mouth far enough to eat, to insert a spoon.  My doctor diagnosed me with TMJ.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome is a pain in the jaw joint that can be caused by a variety of medical problems. The TMJ connects the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull (temporal bone) in front of the ear. Certain facial muscles that control chewing are also attached to the lower jaw.

I could not believe the diagnosis.  The doctor told me that stress made me, subconsciously, clench my teeth.  Not only did I clench my teeth, but I ground them as well.  I was in disbelief.  If you grind your teeth, you would hear it.  That is NOT true.  He told me grinding your teeth is especially common during sleep.  I asked my husband if he heard any teeth grinding noises.  “No, you just snore!”  (Great! What every woman wants to hear…)

So my doctor sent me to an orthodontist, who did a series of x-rays.  The orthodontist fitted me with a mouth guard, which I initially wore most of the day, but especially while sleeping at night. 

Mouth Guard

Additionally, the orthodontist told me that not only did I grind my teeth at night during sleep, but that I did it subconsciously during the day.  He told me to place a sticker on my computer screen.  Then, each time, that I consciously notice the sticker, “ask yourself in what position are my teeth and where is the tip of my tongue?”

That turned out to be an eye-opener.  I caught myself in the worst possible position: my teeth were together, clenched and the tip of my tongue at this point was resting against the inside of my lower front teeth.  Bad, bad, bad!

The orthodontist said, in its natural state, the tip of your tongue should be resting close to the inside of the top front teeth, with the front 1/3 of the tongue resting upwards, just behind the front teeth.  Your lips should be closed, and your teeth slightly apart.  This is the best position of your tongue to keep your jaw muscles relaxed.  Think of it as the position of a baby’s tongue when it is suckling.  Wow, now that was an eye-opener!

At this point, he told me to do “tongue push-ups”.  Sounds funny.  This is how you do them: touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth while you open and close your mouth slowly.

Wearing my night guard religiously each night, being aware of “where’s your tongue?” and doing my “tongue push-ups”, started giving me relief and started the healing process.   There was no overnight cure, but within time, and new habits, I am pain-free. And at this point, I no longer suffer from it.


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  1. You wrote this post very carefully. The amount of information is stunning. Keep sharing this kind of articles, Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. - I did want to share with my readers, how during times of stress, we unconsciously may be doing things to our bodies of which we are not aware. In my case, it was clenching and grinding my teeth, and resulting in terrible pain. Luckily, it was diagnosed correctly by my doctor and orthodontist. With their help and treatment protocol, I no longer suffer from Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome. Hurray!

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