Out of all of my patients I see at TMJ+, the majority of them are women. And this isn’t just my office: millions of people around the world struggle with TMJ and more than three-quarters of them are women between the ages of 19-49. Women are diagnosed five times more frequently than men with TMJ and tend to have more severe symptoms. If you’re a woman struggling with TMJ, here are some research-backed reasons why it could be affecting you and some tips for finding relief.
1. Women are more responsive to their emotions and to stress
There’s a direct connection between TMJ and stress. Stress can make us tense our muscles, clench our jaw, and grind our teeth when we’re sleeping. Research has shown that women tend to report higher levels of anxiety and stress than men and are more responsive to that stress. Many women also tend to be deficient in magnesium, a mineral that can help regulate stress levels. Increasing your daily magnesium intake is a simple way to improve your plight, whether that’s by eating magnesium-rich foods like leafy green vegetables, bananas, and nuts or taking a supplement. Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and even journaling regularly are other ways to keep stress at bay.
2. Differences in the bone structure and muscle density
There’s one simple reason why more women than men suffer from TMJ: they have different kinds of jaw bones. Women’s jaw bones aren’t designed exactly the same way as their male counterparts. The upper jaw bones in males are longer, wider, and thicker. Researchers are still working to understand how exactly these disparities are related to TMJ, but it is certain that they play some role in how each gender experiences the disorder. Obviously, if you’re a woman, you can’t do anything about your bone density, but you can find relief by avoiding hard or tough foods that put stress on this region of your jaw. Try to stick to softer foods as often as possible.
3. Estrogen hormones and contraceptives
Researchers are trying to better understand if and how estrogen may contribute to TMJ in women. Women have estrogen receptors in their jaw and when the jaw is misaligned, some scientists believe they could interfere with pain signals and hormonal regulation process, thus making women feel the painful symptoms of TMJ more acutely. Additionally, if women have an imbalanced amount of progesterone in their system, that could negatively impact bone, collagen, cartilage, and certain proteins in the body. Women also experience hormone fluctuations more often than men, meaning that their experience of pain can change depending on the levels of estrogen in their body at a given time. Estrogen generally helps fight pain, but if you’re taking contraceptives to lower estrogen, then you’re likely to experience pain, including pain from TMJ more often. If you’re a woman experiencing TMJ symptoms, it might be worth it to talk to your doctor about your hormonal balance, especially if you are taking a contraceptive.
No matter if you’re a man or woman struggling with TMJ, relief is possible. Improving your level of magnesium intake, cultivating daily stress-relief habits, and talking to your health care partners about other factors such as genetics and possible hormonal imbalances are great starting points.
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