More than ten million people in the United States experience pain from TMJ, ranging from mild to extreme levels. Surprisingly, 90% of TMJ sufferers seeking treatment for severe symptoms are women in their childbearing years. Studies searching for the cause of these statistics are relatively new, and little is known about why more women than men are seeking help for severe TMJ. Whether women are more at risk for TMJ is unclear, but researchers are putting more focus into studies on the relationship between gender and pain.
Working to Solve the Mystery
In an interview conducted by HealthCentral with president and co-founder of the TMJ Association Terrie Cowley, Cowley clarifies that this statistic does not necessarily mean that more women than men suffer from TMJ pain. When it comes to TMJ, the ratio of women to men seeking help for moderate discomfort is 3 to 1. For patients experiencing more pain, the statistic increases steeply. The ratio of women to men seeking help for severe TMJ symptoms is 9 to 1 in the most severe cases.
There are a few hypotheses currently being tested that suggest why women may be more prone to TMJ. Some studies that are being conducted seek to know if estrogen may be a contributing factor for severe TMJ in women. Other studies are working to see if there is a connection with TMJ and the differences between female and male jaw shape. Lifestyle is another factor to consider because it may determine if women are more likely to grind their teeth due to stress, or are more likely than men to seek help for pain.
Studies have found estrogen receptors in jaw tissue as well as in the brain. These hormones may affect the way that pain receptors process pain. Research on the role that these receptors play in our brain’s interpretation of pain is still under way. Some studies have found that higher levels of estrogen contribute to heightened pain control. Other studies have found that women taking estrogen to supplement cycles of low estrogen such as menopause were at a higher risk of TMJ related pain.
Higher percentages of women than men suffer from other pain disorders such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and migraines. A recent study from the University of North Carolina found that nearly 80% of vulvodynia sufferers also had TMJ. With these higher numbers of female pain sufferers compared to male sufferers, the role of gender and hormones in pain control is a growing field of study as researchers try to understand why more women than men are seeking help for pain disorders.
Seeking Help for Your Pain
Whether you are male or female, TMJ pain is not something to ignore. Here are a few symptoms that sufferers of TMJ may experience:
- Jaw pain
- Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
- Neck aches or stiff neck
- Radiating pain in the face
- Inability to open jaw wide
- Pain when chewing
- Popping and clicking of the jaw
Eating hard or crunchy foods, singing, and even shoveling your sidewalk may be uncomfortable or painful for sufferers of TMJ. In some cases, people with TMJ experience headaches or tinnitus that make concentrating on simple tasks difficult. Don’t let TMJ control your life.