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The #1 Reason You Have TMJ Pain

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

Date: May 4, 2023

Suffering from TMJ pain? You’re not alone. Nearly 18% of the population suffers from a TMJ disorder, too. As a TMJ and Orofacial Pain specialist with over four decades of experience, I’ve helped thousands of people get relief from their pain and acquire control over their TMJ problems.

The symptoms of TMJ pain can be very different from person to person. For some, the pain is sporadic. For others, it lingers. Some people can’t open their mouths without intense pain; some suffer from severe headaches. TMJ pain is usually described as dull, aching, and sore. And many patients say their TMJ problem has taken over their life.

The #1 Reason For TMJ Pain Is Overworked Jaw Muscles

I’m happy to say most people do get better. The most important element of your TMJ treatment, and where we always start, is for you to unravel the mystery behind your TMJ pain.

The clue to your TMJ pain is found in your masseter and temporalis muscles, which are your jaw muscles. Your jaw muscles react to being overworked the same way as any other muscle – when they are overworked they can get sore, stiff, and achy.

For example, when you work in your garden for many hours on a Saturday, your back muscles are probably going to be sore and achy on Sunday. When you work out intensely at the gym, your muscles can ache. If you lift and carry your baby or toddler, you know how painful your arm, shoulder, and back muscles can be.

Your masseter and temporalis muscles are just as susceptible to overuse and fatigue as your back, legs, shoulders, and arms. So, what causes jaw muscles to become overworked? The most common reasons for jaw tension are continuous daytime jaw over-use behaviors, such as:

  • Teeth grinding and clenching
  • Gnawing on pens
  • Chewing gum
  • Biting your nails or cuticles
  • Biting your lips or the inside of your mouth

But there’s something behind the persistent muscle tension that just may be the cause of your TMJ pain…

Your TMJ Pain May Well Be Tied To Your Emotions

It may seem strange to tie your jaw muscle problems to your emotions. But over the years, TMJ specialists began to notice some stark similarities among their patients. They discovered that the majority were living lives filled with negative emotions such as constant stress and worry. Many were dealing with a serious illness, unrelenting pressure at work, caring for an aging parent, or having marital problems, to name a few.

Negative emotions that come from constant stress and worry can lead to what I like to call “an upset brain.” An upset brain can lead to persistent muscle tension, which can then trigger daytime jaw over-use behaviors such as the ones I listed above.

Constant stress and worry can harm the quality of sleep, as well. An upset brain can trigger nighttime teeth clenching or grinding, which overworks your muscles and often results in morning TMJ pain and stiffness.

The Link Between Overworked Jaw Muscles & Prescription Medications

There’s another possible reason you have TMJ pain. Many people rely on medications such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta®, and Vyvanse® to enhance their brain focus. While they’re effective, they can also stimulate your internal fight-or-flight system, which in turn can lead to jaw over-use behaviors, which in turn can cause jaw problems.

What To Do Next


TMJ and Orofacial Pain Specialists have a toolbox full of treatments to help people get in control of their TMJ so they can feel better, heal, and get their lives back. Treatments include behavior modification, relaxation and breathing strategies, exercises, medications, and oral appliances. Trigger point injections, prolo injections, and BOTOX® can be very effective as part of an overall treatment plan, as well.

Now that you are aware that the #1 reason you have TMJ pain is your overworked jaw muscles, it’s time to get help. Click here to learn more about the best treatments for TMJ.


Dr. Donald R. Tanenbaum


Are you located in the NYC metro area? We can help you. Our practice has three convenient locations: Manhattan, Westchester, and Long Island. To make your appointment, call 888-560-6674.

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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