Temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ disorder, is a jaw condition that is treatable, but can be very uncomfortable. You may be surprised to learn that TMJ disorder is much more common in women than it is in men. Scientists don’t yet have a definitive reason for this, but there are a number of factors that could cause this disorder in women. Mill Dam Dental Care is a leading dentist that offers expert TMJ treatment in Virginia Beach. Here’s what you should know about TMJ, why it could be more common in women, and the steps you can take to treat it.
What is TMJ Disorder?
TMJ Disorder happens when the temporomandibular joint is misaligned. This joint connects the lower jaw bone to your skull. This joint moves when you speak, eat, or otherwise move your mouth. You have two of these joints – one on each side of your mouth. People with TMJ disorder may experience problems with just one joint or with both.
There isn’t one specific cause of TMJ disorder – it can happen as a result of your bone structure, an injury, or other health conditions. Getting appropriate treatment for TMJ disorder can help prevent pain and movement issues in the future.
The most common symptom of TMJ disorder is an aching pain or tenderness in the jaw, face, or around your ear. This disorder can also cause a clicking or grating sensation when you move your mouth. In the most serious cases, TMJ disorder can limit movement, making it difficult to open or close your mouth. Many people who struggle with TMJ disorder also experience ongoing migraine headaches. They may also grind their teeth at night and even experience tinnitus, or a ringing sensation in the ears. All of these symptoms happen as a result of misalignment of the TMJ joint as well as the facial muscle imbalances that come with that
Why Is TMJ Disorder More Common In Women?
There isn’t one specific reason why TMJ disorder is more common in women. However, there are a few health and lifestyle factors that contribute to the gender imbalance surrounding TMJ disorder. Here are a few of the reasons why TMJ disorder tends to be more common among women.
One reason why women might be more prone to TMJ disorder is because of their jaw structure. Regardless of gender, your jaw structure is one of the key causes of TMJ disorder. Some people are born with a misaligned TMJ joint, or have naturally weaker jaw muscles, which can cause this condition.
In general, female jaw muscles are weaker than male jaw muscles. They’re also more likely to be inflamed, especially when you’re feeling tired or stressed out. When this happens, it limits the flow of blood and oxygen to your face. When muscles are stressed or tired, this causes a buildup of lactic acid. Lactic acid causes muscle soreness, cramping, and spasms, all of which can put stress on the TMJ joint and lead to TMJ disorder.
Scientists believe that hormones can also affect your likelihood of developing TMJ disorder, although more research is needed to fully prove this theory. Women have higher levels of estrogen than men, and it is possible that estrogen could put additional stress on the brain. Specifically, estrogen may affect the pain receptors in the brain. This could make the pain of TMJ disorder more intense and uncomfortable for women, particularly women that have imbalanced estrogen levels. Another hormone that could correlate with TMJ disorder is progesterone. Progesterone levels affect your body’s ability to grow bone and cartilage. It’s possible that a lack of progesterone could result in a weaker TMJ joint, although more scientific evidence would be needed to fully prove this theory.
Stress levels are another key factor that could affect TMJ disorder. Generally, women report having higher stress levels than men. There are many potential causes of stress in women, both personal and societal. Pregnancy can cause very high levels of physical and emotional stress, as can childcare responsibilities, which often fall disproportionately on women.
When you’re stressed, you are much more likely to clench your jaw or grind your teeth. Both of these behaviors can lead to TMJ disorder, as they put a huge amount of stress on the bones and muscles in your face. Stress is also correlated with muscle tension in general, as well as a decrease in blood flow and hormone imbalances. All of these can cause TMJ, or make symptoms worse for those who already have it.
In some cases, vitamin deficiencies could also lead to TMJ disorder. Many women experience vitamin deficiencies during pregnancy. Their bodies are rapidly changing, and it can be hard to get enough nutrients to keep up. In particular, magnesium deficiencies could be linked to TMJ disorder. To avoid these problems, pregnant women should make sure to eat a balanced diet as guided by their doctor, and take prenatal vitamins when necessary.
Scientists have also theorized that sleep apnea and other sleep issues could exacerbate the risk of TMJ disorder. Sleep apnea limits oxygen to the brain, and cause brain damage over time. If it isn’t treated appropriately, it could limit your ability to move your jaw, causing TMJ disorder. Any kind of lack of sleep can also have a negative impact on oxygen and blood flow throughout the body, which can also lead to TMJ disorder.
Other Causes Of TMJ Disorder
There are other potential causes of TMJ disorder that are not specific to women, but are still important to consider. For example, TMJ disorder can be genetic, as your bone structure can be passed down through your family. TMJ disorder can also happen as the result of an injury to the face or jaw that isn’t properly corrected. It can even develop as a side effect of other health conditions, such as arthritis.
How is TMJ Disorder Treated?
TMJ disorder can be very painful and can also negatively interfere with your day-to-day life. The sooner you seek treatment for TMJ disorder, the easier it is to correct the problem. When dealing with TMJ disorder, it may be recommended to see a dentist that specializes in jaw problems. You may also want to talk with your primary care doctor to see if there are any underlying conditions that could be contributing to your TMJ disorder.
To diagnose TMJ disorder, your dentist will first observe you opening and closing your mouth to check the range of motion in your jaw. They will also feel your jaw, pressing on key points to identify discomfort. They will listen for clicking or grinding sounds and make note of any other abnormalities.
If an initial examination indicates the likelihood of TMJ or other jaw problems, your dentist will likely have you complete a set of dental X-rays. These images will help your dentist get a better idea of what’s happening and determine the appropriate treatment for you.
There are many different ways to treat TMJ disorder, depending on the severity of your condition. Your dentist might recommend that you wear a mouth device such as an Urbanek Device, which can help prevent you from grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw. Additionally, they might recommend that you attend physical therapy sessions. A physical therapist can perform treatments to reduce tension in the jaw muscles, as well as teach you exercises to help improve strength and mobility in your jaw.
Additionally, there are medications that can help reduce the symptoms of TMJ. Prescription-strength ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatories can be very helpful if you aren’t able to manage the pain on your own. For more serious cases, muscle relaxants can also be very helpful. Corticosteroid injections can also be very effective for releasing tension and reducing pain in the joint.
In the most serious of TMJ cases, surgery may be necessary. In many cases, TMJ disorder can be corrected with arthroscopic surgery, but if the jaw is particularly misaligned, open-joint surgery may be necessary.
TMJ disorder can be very uncomfortable and can interfere with your daily activities. Due to both biological and environmental factors, women are more likely to develop TMJ disorder than men. However, there are treatments that can help you live more comfortably with this condition. Be sure to see your dentist right away if you suspect you have TMJ disorder. If you are struggling with TMJ disorder in Virginia Beach, contact Mill Dam Dental Care today to see how we can help.