Like many other workhorses of the body, when your TMJ is functioning properly, you don’t even realize it is there. The fact is that women experience sever issues with their tmj health at a much higher rate then men do. At Leading Dentists, our goal is to provide the public with trustworthy information and help so it only makes sense to explore why this discrepancy exists and what women can do to help alleviate or prevent the symptoms of a TMJ disorder.
However, when the TMJ — the temporomandibular joint that connects your lower jawbone with your skull — is misaligned, you can experience a variety of painful symptoms. When these symptoms are chronic, they can interfere with your ability to eat, chew, talk and even sleep.
Some of the most minor symptoms of TMJ include Tinnitus, Jaw popping or jaw clicking. But symptoms increase in severity from facial, neck and shoulder pain; headache; earache; bruxism; hearing loss and lockjaw; muscle spasms and clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing the mouth. There are many common TMJ symptoms that are treatable when diagnosed in the early stages.
This jaw dysfunction is becoming more prevalent as awareness has grown. In fact, more than 10 million Americans suffer with TMJ according to recent statistics. However, while both genders experience the disorder, the majority of those who either seek treatment or are affected, are women.
The ratio of female TMJ patients that are women increases dramatically to a 9 to 1 ratio as the severity of the TMJ symptoms increases. Of those patients experiencing unrelenting pain and severe limitations in jaw movement, 90 percent are women of childbearing age (20-35 years old).
Why does TMJ affect women more often than men?
Research on TMJ and women is relatively new, but it does suggest that there is a connection between hormones and TMJ disorder.
Pain can affect men and women differently. Scientists have discovered that estrogen receptors are in jaw tissue and in the brain, and that the hormone can interact with the brain’s perception of pain and its control of pain.
Additionally, low levels of progesterone, an important female hormone, may contribute to TMJ disorder. Researchers have determined that low progesterone can affect some of the body’s bone, cartilage, collagen and proteins.
Vitamin deficiencies, especially magnesium deficiencies, also are more common in women, and researchers are examining a link between these low levels and TMJ in women of childbearing age. This may be one reason why tmj diets may help improve the severity of some symtpoms.
Stress is another key factor that may contribute to more TMJ problems in women. Research has linked chronic stress and anxiety with TMJ. For example, many TMJ sufferers clench or grind their teeth at night. This stress-related subconscious action can interfere with the working of the TMJ.
Women process stress differently than men do. According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women are more likely to experience physical symptoms of stress than men are.
Researchers theorize that men are more likely to combat stress with the “fight or flight” response and will often decrease stress by getting away from the cause and/or by engaging in a relaxing activity. Women, on the other hand, often try to solve the stress-causing problem, thereby causing more stress. Also, many women may find it difficult to take time for self-care.
For women, the problems of balancing work and home life can lead to hormonal imbalances. These imbalances then can contribute to chemical changes and pain in the body.
How can women with TMJ get help?
The first step is to see your physician to discuss your symptoms and to rule out any other health issues that may be causing your painful symptoms.
Next, visit a neuromuscular dentist who specializes in TMJ. The process of diagnosing TMJ dysfunction should include a complete health history and performing an examination of your head, neck, face and jaw, this experienced professional will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and to recommend some treatment options.
Your dentist will begin with simple self-care treatments including moist heat and or icepack applications as well as a soft food diet (no chewing gum or hard candy). Your dentist also may recommend tmj jaw exercises to help relax your TMJ and an over-the-counter or prescription medication to control pain. There are also fantastic home remedies that sufferers may consider in order to ease the severity of symptoms.
Many patients experience relief with these self-care options. If further treatment is needed, your dentist may advise a mouth guard to prevent you from grinding or clenching your teeth during sleep. A realignment of your teeth may be another option.
Your TMJ specialist will consider tmj jaw surgery only as a last resort. For a complete review of those circumstances and the things to consider prior to surgery see our interview on modified condyltomy tmj surgery with Dr. Mark Duncan.
As research continues on TMJ in general and on TMJ and women in particular, scientists are finding that women who suffer from chronic TMJ are also more likely to experience other painful conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and endometriosis.
For example, a study by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill found that nearly 80 percent of its Vulvodynia Clinic patients also had TMJ symptoms.
In addition, there may be a connection between arthritis, which is more common in women than in men, and TMJ. Some research indicates that the collagen that holds the disk in place between a joint’s ball and socket differs between men and women. This difference may have something to do with TMJ pain in women.
If you are suffering with the pain of TMJ, it is time to see a neuromuscular dentist who can diagnose the problem and get you on the road to a life without chronic pain. Use Leading Dentists to find highly trained for a TMJ dentists near you.
Other TMJ Resources For Women:
Who Should Treat TMJ Dysfunction