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Pain & Emotions

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: December 2, 2022

Pain & Emotions

On a routine basis, we are asked whether or not stress could be responsible for the onset of a patient’s facial pain. The answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” 


But there are 3 things to understand in order to appreciate how this occurs and why it is so common:


  1. Aside from toothache pain, the most common reason that people experience facial pain is muscle strain.
  2. Muscle strain that lingers gives rise to symptoms such as pain and or restrictions in movement.
  3. The muscle pain and malfunction that we see occurs as a result of subtle changes in the chemical environment of a muscle, and this is most often influenced by a stressed brain.

This is What Happens


When you are under stress for a long period of time, or when your emotional world is characterized by anger, sadness, loneliness, loss of control, worry, and anxiety (to name just a few), the brain becomes understandably upset. As a result, the brain is unable to provide exquisite control over blood flow, muscle tension, and nerve discharge, that are essential for muscle comfort. Loss of this control leads to an accumulation of irritating chemicals in your muscles, like lactic acid and others, that leads to pain and muscle tightening.


In the presence of this irritating chemical environment the nerves that run through your muscles fire excessively, and pain along with muscle tightening results. In essence, a brain under emotional siege sets the stage for muscles to falter.


2 More Things to Understand

  1. With ongoing emotional turmoil, it is likely that both the quality and quantity of your sleep will suffer. As a consequence, your muscles are more likely to ache, with the experience of muscle tension headaches, facial pain, and jaw pain being common.
  2. A brain under siege commonly leads to learned behaviors and tendencies such as tooth clenching, raised shoulders, furrowed brows, crossed arms, and shallow breathing patterns that can predispose to more pain and a continuous cycle of suffering.


Thoughts alone can, over time, give rise to facial pain symptoms. Through our experience, insight, and treatment strategies, it is likely that we can ease your pain and set you on the path to recovery.

DISCLAIMER: The advice offered in response to your questions is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. Namely, we in no way offer a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendation for your particular situation. Our intent is solely educational and our responses to your actual questions serve as a springboard to discussion of a variety of dental topics that come up in a day-to-day dental practice. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified professional.

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