Women are about three times more likely than men to seek treatment for temporomandibular disorders (TMD). This ratio gets considerably higher as the severity of the disorder increases: around 90% of the most extreme cases are experienced by women. What are the reasons for this gender imbalance, and is there anything women in particular can do to reduce their risk?
Why Are Women Most At Risk?
Crucially, men and women have different natural levels of hormones. Hormones essentially function as chemical “messengers” within the body, but they can also have a lot of side-effects, especially when their quantity fluctuates above or below the normal range. There is a lot of hormone variation between individuals, and also between people of different ages—but a particular contrast is notable between men and women. Women of childbearing age, who tend to have pronounced fluctuations in their levels of estrogen and progesterone, are at the highest risk of developing TMD.
Besides hormones, several other reasons for the higher incidence of female TMD have been proposed. One of them is stress: women report higher rates of chronic anxiety and stress than men, and stress is one of the main predisposing factors for TMD. Some women also suffer nutrient deficiencies, or regular nutrient losses, due to menstrual bleeding; this may also play a role. Finally, women are more prone to disorders and diseases of the teeth and jaw in general, and a history of periodontal problems makes you more likely to develop TMD later on.
How Do Hormones Affect Our TMJ?
The exact link between hormones and TMD is still unknown, but several studies have explored this ground. It has been shown that women who take estrogen supplements or use certain forms of birth control are at increased risk of developing TMD. On the other hand, a high level of natural estrogen seems to alleviate pain associated with the disorder. This is fertile ground for further research, and we can expect to learn more about the role of hormones in coming years.
Additionally, the link between hormones and rheumatoid arthritis has ramifications for TMD sufferers.
What Can Women Do To Reduce Their Risk?
Anything that alleviates stress and anxiety or helps you get enough sleep will be helpful. Many patients report improvements after trying yoga, passive jaw stretching, or special jaw relaxation exercises.
Women can also periodically perform a simple self assessment to become aware of their jaw function. You should be able to fit at least 3 fingers between your front teeth when opening widely, chew and swallow without difficulty, and be able to move your lower jaw side to side without pain. If discomfort, pain, limitation of movement or loud joint noises occur, it may be worthwhile to have your joints checked out. Also, if you ever sense sudden changes to your bite, this could be a sign of something happening in your joints.
To learn more about optimizing your joint health, or methods for alleviating your symptoms, contact the team at MedCenter TMJ today.