If you experience jaw pain, you should know about its link to emotions. Poor vagal tone is linked to things like clenching and grinding.
When we have overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve from the masseter muscle, one of our main jaw muscles, we are in sympathetic nervous system (flight/flight) overdrive. Clenching or grinding your teeth at night or during a stressful situation is very common.
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Other Factors that Affect Jaw Pain
Poor tongue posture can also contribute to jaw pain. The tongue should be on the roof of the mouth and gently touches the back of the teeth in our resting tongue posture.
If we have dysfunctional breathing or breathing from the neck and shoulders, that creates a stress response. That can further drive dysfunction in the trigeminal nerve.
The trigeminal nerve innervates the muscles of the face, sinuses, and nasal cavity. It is one of the biggest nerves that we want to associate with our sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight system. It is also deeply connected to the vagus nerve.
Our vagus nerve is 80% of our parasympathetic nervous system. These two nerves are bringing information to the brain and affect transmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline, which are linked to neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Ultimately, when we have dysfunction or miscommunication in these nerves, whether the sympathetic nervous system is increased or the parasympathetic nervous system is decreased, then this can contribute to jaw pain.
Most often, you’ll see clenching and grinding at night. Our reticular activating system is part of our brainstem and when we’re sleeping, our cerebrum is at rest and our reticular activating system is that alert system that is going to tell us if our child is crying. Think of it as our survival mechanism. So during sleep is often where we’ll start to see the sympathetic overdrive kick in.
The take-home message is that there is truly a jaw-emotion link. If you’re suffering from TMJ, have your airway evaluated. It is important to make sure that there are no structural abnormalities that are contributing to it. However, you also want to dive into the emotional aspect of it. Explore your emotions, learn how to regulate your nervous system, try many of my vagus nerve hacks, speak to a professional. Find what works for you.
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