It’s common knowledge that people often feel increased fatigue, anxiety, irritability, and pressure over the holiday season. These stress-related negative emotions could lead to physical ailments such as tension headaches, muscle soreness and jaw pain, which often come from underlying TMJ (temporal mandibular joint) issues.

“With the added tasks people need to get done over the holiday season, bruxism (grinding of the teeth) or clenching the teeth can start or perhaps increase,” says Erik F. Reitter, DDS, in a release. “This can lead to temporary or permanent health issues.”

Reitter is a board certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Carolinas Center for TMJ Therapy and specializes in temporal mandibular dysfunctions (TMD) in Charlotte, NC. He is also a member of the American Dental Association (ADA) and the North Carolina Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (NC-OMS).

Symptoms of TMD include: noises such as clicking, popping or grinding; muscle pain in the face and neck; and pain around and into the ear. Other indications of TMD are: the inability to open your mouth as wide as you once could; the feeling of your jaw catching or locking; headaches; and changes in your bite.

“People need to realize that headaches, earaches, and jaw and muscle pain, especially when left untreated, can become debilitating,” says Reitter. “Patients can lose the ability to open and close their mouths, making eating and talking painful.” There is also the added damage to teeth, which often requires dental care. So it’s best to be proactive if you feel any symptoms such as: noises, jaw pain, limited opening, headaches and so on. Early intervention is key to treating TMJ, so don’t wait too long to see a specialist.

Reitter says treatment options include: using splints; changes in oral and postural habits; education; and medications. There are also specific exercises and/or physical therapy that can be prescribed for patients. Surgery is only used as a last resort in severe cases, he says.