Work. Relationships. Life in general. Never has it been more stressful to be a young adult, according to a new study by the retail chain Mattress Firm. In fact, the study found that millennials – young adults born between 1981 and 1996 – spend upwards of four hours a day stressing out about something. As if the stress itself weren’t bad enough, many dentists are noticing a disturbing trend among millennial patients, too.
“Temporomandibular joint disorder is increasing among millennials,” says Dr. Randy Sanovich, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon who treats temporomandibular joint disorder in his Dallas, Texas, clinic.
Temporomandibular joint disorder – or TMJD for short – is a condition where the temporomandibular joint, which connects the lower jaw to the skull, becomes misaligned. It can cause a variety of painful side effects including jaw stiffness, teeth grinding (or bruxism), headaches, neck and back pain, tinnitus, and difficulty eating, speaking, or opening the mouth. There’s also that telltale “popping and clicking” sound that some people hear when they open and close their jaw.
The condition, which affects an estimated 10 million Americans, is most commonly found in women in their childbearing years, roughly between the ages of 20 and 40 years old – and now those numbers could be growing.
“Between the extra stress and decreased sleep, it’s taking its toll on the body – specifically the jaw,” says Sanovich.
That’s because when we’re stressed, we tend to hold that stress in the jaw, experts like Sanovich and others theorize.
“People often clench their jaws or grind their teeth subconsciously when they’re stressed,” says Sanovich. “They may not even realize they’re doing it. I have seen patients with jaw stiffness and tooth damage that were completely unaware they did it.”
Worse yet, Sanovich says grinding and clenching doesn’t just occur during the day.
“A lot of people grind their teeth in their sleep, which can be much harder to stop because you don’t realize you’re doing it.”
The good news is that there are treatment options available.
“For teeth grinding, we can craft a custom mouth guard that you don’t even notice you’re wearing,” says Sanovich. “You can wear it to bed, in the car, to work – wherever your stress levels are highest.”
As for temporomandibular joint disorder, Sanovich offers both surgical and non-surgical options to his patients.
“There are surgical procedures that can help realign the positioning of the jaw so it fits back into the temporomandibular joint, but the recommended treatment depends on the individual patient,” he says. “There are also less invasive treatments, such as Botox injections, trigger-point injections and even physical therapy exercises.”
For those experiencing TMJD symptoms, Sanovich encourages them to seek an evaluation by a dentist or dental surgeon who specializes in the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorder.
“We may not be able to reduce your stress, but we certainly can reduce the pain it’s causing,” he says.