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How Hypnotherapy Can Relieve Jaw Pain, Bruxism, & TMJ

bruxism jaw pain tmj Aug 03, 2021

I was eighteen years old when it started, not long after I had all four of my impacted wisdom teeth extracted. The dental surgery required a general anesthetic and left my entire face swollen and bruised. It looked like someone had punched me on the left side of the head. I was unable to open my mouth for at least a week.

Long after the surgery, I continued to experience recurring episodes of severe discomfort. The pain would start in my left jaw and ear - it felt like someone was stabbing a red hot poker into my ear, and it was excruciating. From there, it would radiate into my jaw joint, the left side of my head, neck, and shoulder. The notion of turning or tilting my head was out of the question. 

Showering was risky business because even accidentally brushing my ear with a towel would trigger yet another intense stab of the hot poker in my ear. When I cried out in agony and frustration, it made matters worse. 

As the pain peaked, which it always did, I was unable to open my mouth, smile, sleep or even swallow. Forget having a conversation. Sometimes it would last for a week - a constant and paralyzing source of misery. And then, just as mysteriously as it came, it would vanish. 

Have you ever felt chronic pain like that in your jaw?

At first, I thought I had developed severe migraine headaches; they always seemed to strike while I sat at my desk job cradling a telephone between my shoulder and ear all day. I'd call my then-partner and beg him to take time off his job to pick me up in the office lunchroom. The pain was so debilitating that I could not manage to take the subway home.  

Desperate, I went to my doctor, who sent me home with a prescription for costly migraine pills, which were ineffective and made me dizzy. Another doctor prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs, which made me vomit. Unimaginably tortuous because that involved me opening my mouth. 

Frustrated, I made an appointment with another doctor to see if I had an ear infection. Upon finding no sign of infection, he said, "It's all in your head, dear," and sent me away, fuming.

The pain and frustration were getting to me… which only made matters worse. 

At the time, in the 1970s and 1980s, nobody I talked to seemed to know what was going on with me. Can you imagine feeling that kind of frustration? 

The following excerpt from a New York Times article dated January 25, 1984, titled: the Cause and Treatment of TMJ Syndrome, a Problem Called "the Great Impostor,” explains why no one knew.

"TMJ syndrome was first discovered more than half a century ago. It was not until the 1950s that much professional attention was paid to it, and not until the last decade that many health professionals, dentists, in particular, developed expertise in its diagnosis and treatment. At first, many dentists thought that malocclusion of the teeth and misalignment of the jaws were the main causes. The recommended treatment, then, was often tooth-grinding to adjust the bite, mouth splints, braces, or even surgery.

Now, however, the prevailing view is that stress, defined in its broadest sense, is the main cause and that drastic corrective dentistry is rarely necessary. Studies have shown that many more people have abnormal jaw and tooth alignments than ever get symptoms of TMJ syndrome. Rather, it afflicts those who respond to stress by tensing the muscles of the jaw joint until one or more of them goes into spasm.”1

I visited my dentist, who noticed my jaw popping and shifting when I opened my mouth wide. By then, I thought it was normal to hear one's jaw joint grinding when opening wide. He suggested I may have bruxism, meaning I was grinding my teeth and clenching my jaw, especially at night. "What!? I do not grind my teeth,” I replied because I was completely unaware of this behavior. He told me it must be unconscious and to stick to a liquid diet when having symptoms.  

The dentist prescribed an opiate-based prescription pain medication combined with an anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant. Sure, they worked some, but I could neither drive nor think straight when taking them. And I was not too fond of the way they made me feel.  I was wary of taking them for days on end, yet popping the pills was exactly what I had to do when I was booked on modeling assignments. Clients often hired me because I had a smile that sold product, and smiling during a painful episode required medication. 

Over two decades, I struggled to find relief from the excruciatingly painful episodes, searching for natural, non-drug solutions. I tried acupuncture to no avail. I turned to various chiropractors, rushing in for emergency visits when the pain monster raised its ugly head. The adjustments sometimes helped relieve the muscle spasms in my neck and jaw, but the painful bouts kept reoccurring. 

Another dentist said that I must be laboriously grinding my teeth because my molars were worn almost flat, and the enamel was cracking off at the gumline of several teeth. She explained that bruxism was causing the signature pain of TMJ, or Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction. The dentist custom-made a night guard for me to wear on my lower teeth every night so that I wouldn't grind my teeth to pieces. 

Do you suffer from Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction?

While the night guard made a difference for me, I was lost without it, and it did nothing to stop the jaw clenching that triggered the pain. The device was costly, and I ended up chewing through a few of them. God forbid I should travel somewhere and discover that, horrors… I left it at home. Even one night without the dental device would spell p-a-i-n for the rest of my trip. Just the thought of it would stress me out and cause me to - you guessed it - clench my jaw! Thank goodness that, at the time, I never traveled without a stash of prescription painkillers. 

The dental damage caused by bruxism got to the point where I had to invest many thousands of dollars on crowns and inlays to replace the damaged teeth. And still, I was dependent on the night guard to lessen the frequency of TMJ episodes.

Are you looking for relief from your symptoms?

Luckily, things have changed since then. I discovered that the TMJ disorder that impacted my life so severely likely originated from a combination of the following: damage to my jaw joint sustained during dental surgery and stress from emotional and physical trauma that manifested as bruxism.

Armed with this knowledge, I searched for ways to reduce my stress and anxiety, to get to the root cause. After a couple of years of psychotherapy sessions laced with antidepressants, I finally discovered the power of hypnosis. And it was an awakening of significant proportions. 

Can you imagine what it feels like to know that you have the power to relax your jaw naturally? 

Hypnotherapy not only helped me relax my jaw, but also got to the root cause, and helped me heal. For decades I suffered bouts of severe TMJ pain, barely being able to open my mouth or move my head. Today, I am finally free from jaw pain. And you can be too.

What Are Bruxism and TMJ?

Before going into how hypnosis can help you, let's first examine what these two conditions are and how they can affect you.


The characteristics of bruxism are teeth grinding, gnashing, and jaw clenching. It affects sufferers adversely in a variety of ways. Many of the short-term effects stop once bruxism is no longer present. Chronic bruxism can lead to TMJ, the long-term effects of which can be permanent. Note that while not all bruxists suffer from TMJ, they are three times more likely to suffer headaches than non-bruxist.

There are two types of bruxism: awake and sleep bruxism. Awake Bruxism is mostly jaw clenching and not as much, if any, teeth grinding. Sleep bruxism is usually a combination of both teeth grinding and jaw clenching.

 Short-term effects of bruxism:

  • Headaches, often on the same side of the head  
  • Painful muscle spasms in the jaw and neck 
  • Jaw-popping and grinding when opening mouth
  • Aching while chewing
  • Temporary jaw locking
  • Aching pain in and around the ears
  • Tight shoulder muscles
  • Difficulty opening mouth
  • Waking up at night due to discomfort
  • The noise of grinding waking up bed partner
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Loosening teeth
  • Gum inflammation and recession

Long-term effects of bruxism:

  • TMJ Temporomandibular Joint Disorder 
  • Abnormal tooth wear and breakage
  • Loss of teeth


The TMJ-temporomandibular (tem-puh-roe-man-DIB-u-lur) joint is like a sliding hinge that connects the jawbone to the skull on either side of the head. TMJ (sometimes called TMD) disorders cause radiating jaw muscle discomfort ranging from mild to severe and can impact everyday life. It is a result of bruxism.

"TMJ syndrome, or myofascial pain dysfunction, afflicts tens of millions of Americans, most of whom are unaware of the cause of their suffering and the possibility of a simple solution.

The problem is known as "the great imposter" because its varied symptoms often mimic those of many other disorders. As a result, many victims go from doctor to doctor for many years in a vain effort to find an explanation and a remedy for their chronic pain.”2

Dear Doctor, Inc., a dental and oral health magazine, outlines the pain cycle of TMJ:

  1.  Psychological or physical trauma and metabolic or mechanical stimulants - cause muscle pain and dysfunction.
  2. Constricted blood supply - causes waste product accumulation and diminished oxygen.
  3. Chemical changes in muscle - cause inflammatory chemical buildup due to muscle fatigue.
  4. Muscle soreness and spasms.
  5. Pain - signals the brain to stop muscle movement.3

What Causes TMJ?

Several factors can cause TMJ, such as arthritis or jaw injury (as I experienced from surgery to extract my wisdom teeth.) As noted above, TMJ is a long-term effect of bruxism.

Whatever the cause of bruxism and TMJ, we know that it hurts, and those who suffer pain, whether it be physical or emotional, tend to clench or grind their teeth. 

The proof is in the pudding; before the invention of anesthesia, surgery patients had to bite down on a piece of wood or leather so they wouldn't bite their tongue. 

The human jaw can dole out a pretty powerful crunch - a Scientific American study reveals this:

”The average of the thousand persons (tested) showed 171 pounds for the molar teeth."4

Have you ever noticed how an actor’s jaw muscles ripple during a closeup of a stress-laden scene? They’re using a jaw-clenching technique to indicate a state of stress to the viewers silently.

What causes bruxism?

The possible causes of bruxism are many. It's always recommended you visit your healthcare provider and dentist first to get an assessment of your symptoms and other contributing factors. 

Let's take a look at the most prevalent cause of bruxism.

Stress and anxiety

Research indicates that stress and anxiety play a significant role in bruxism. 

The Bruxism Association explains that:

"Mental disorders, anxiety, stress, and adverse psychosocial factors are significantly related to tooth grinding during sleep, and it has been found that nearly 70% of bruxism occurs as a result of stress or anxiety. It is well documented that job-related stress is detrimental to good sleep and, as a consequence, can be responsible for daytime sleepiness. But, it is also the most significant factor associated with bruxism."5

Hypnotherapy can get to the origin of the stress and anxiety that cause bruxism. Often the anxiety is subconscious and is a result of adverse childhood experiences, and these emotional drivers are more likely to surface during sleep. Hypnotherapy can help address and heal emotional issues and program your mind to respond in a healthier way to stress, diminishing bruxism. 

Often the anticipation of jaw pain and teeth grinding can trigger anxiety in bruxists, causing them to focus on the problem and lose even more precious sleep. It's the Law of Attraction at work - you attract what you focus on. Hypnotherapy can program your mind to focus on a relaxed jaw and peaceful sleep. And you know as well as I do that when you start feeling better, it's like a domino effect; other positive shifts begin to happen.

Other bruxism causes and triggers

  • Certain repetitive habits such as biting the fingernails, cheeks, lips, or tongue, cradling a telephone, a violin (or a viola) against the shoulder, constant gum-chewing, eating hard-to-chew foods, and even biting down on a snorkel can cause or aggravate bruxism. 
  • Poor posture, such as thrusting the head forward and rounding the shoulders while sitting, standing, working, watching television, are also culprits.
  • Performing tasks that require extreme focus for extended periods. For example, spending hours typing at the computer, driving under adverse conditions, learning new physical skills.
  • In particular, some medications can stimulate bruxism due to the changes to the nervous system they cause. These medications include certain antidepressants such a Paxil or Zoloft as well as antipsychotic medications. 
  • "The use of psychoactive substances (tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, or medications for sleep, depression, and anxiety) increases arousal and leads to problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and daytime sleepiness. Bruxism is significantly higher in individuals whose lifestyle includes the use of these psychoactive substances.”5
  • Existing sleep disorders like sleep apnea are factors; snoring, gasps, mumbling, and bruxism often follow the bouts of gasping for air that characterize sleep apnea.

While some bruxism cases require a medical doctor or dentist's help, hypnotherapy can be extremely useful in healing the stress, anxiety, and many of the habits that exacerbate bruxism. 

Yes you can!

Now that you know the causes and effects of bruxism and TMJ let's get to the good part.

You don't have to suffer any longer. Just imagine how refreshed you'll feel waking up pain-free in the morning after a good night's sleep. 

Using the power of hypnosis, you can: 

  • Notice a reduction in TMJ symptoms.
  • Manage bruxism and TMJ more easily.
  • Experience a greater sense of calm if you do have symptoms.I understand you may or may not have already invested time and money searching for ways to ease your pain and save your teeth, but how is it working for you? Now is the perfect time to explore hypnosis to get natural relief from TMJ.

How Can Hypnotherapy Help?

Bruxism happens unconsciously, and hypnotherapy is a logical solution because it works with the unconscious mind. 

Hypnosis puts you into an ultra-relaxed state, yet you're not asleep. It is in this state that your unconscious mind is open to suggestions and the re-patterning of thoughts. 

The stress and anxiety patterns that lead to teeth grinding and jaw clenching establish themselves over the years and are often deeply rooted in the unconscious mind since childhood. They affect your everyday life. The good news is that hypnosis can interrupt negative thought patterns and replace them with positive, more beneficial suggestions and beliefs, even if your suffering has gone on for years.

In a nutshell, hypnosis treats the real underlying cause and not just the symptoms.

Here's how hypnosis for TMJ works

  • Stress and anxiety are the predominant cause of bruxism; hypnosis goes into the unconscious mind to find the cause of stress and rewires it. I use various relaxation techniques to induce a calm, hypnotic state of mind. In this mental state, your unconscious mind is most receptive to suggestions and positive affirmations that reduce your stress and make you feel happier overall. 
  • I then use guided imagery and positive affirmations to help release the stress and create inner transformation. Your unconscious mind learns to release negative emotions, unsettling thoughts, and disassociate from pain during this process.
  • As part of your treatment, you'll learn self-hypnosis, which you'll be able to use to induce a state of deep calm and detachment from TMJ discomfort anytime you wish to during your day.
  • Reducing discomfort is crucial because it helps diminish the stress caused by pain or the anticipation thereof. You'll learn a technique you can use on your own to turn down and soothe the painful symptoms in the jaw area, giving you natural, drug-free relief from the discomfort. Knowing that you can do this yourself anytime helps reduce the added tension caused by anticipation of the pain. 

While there is no magic cure for TMJ, and your symptoms may not completely disappear, hypnosis is the quickest way to help diminish the ongoing stress and pain associated with TMJ. The best part is that your body will learn to disconnect from residual discomfort effortlessly. The result is that with hypnosis, you'll feel happier and enjoy a much-improved quality of life!

Reach out to me HERE to schedule a free call to find out if hypnosis is right for you.

With love,

Esmée St James



1 NYT The cause and treatment of TMJ syndrome, a problem called "the great impostor."

2 NYT The cause and treatment of TMJ syndrome, a problem called "the great impostor."

3 Seeking Relief From TMD

4 The Power of the Human Jaw

5 Causes of Bruxism

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