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Estrogen, Pain, and TMJ

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: November 29, 2011

Why is TMJ Disorder So Prevalent Among Women?

Not only is there a clear dominance of TMJ in women, but also the severity of the problem is often at a level virtually never seen in men. This scenario is frequently seen in the case of teenage girls, suggesting that the problems we are confronted with could be hormonal. Some research has unveiled a link between TMJ and estrogen, which could shed light on the dominance of TMJ in women.

Take the example of Mary, a 17-year-old female who came to my practice. Mary’s problems started when she was 12 years old with the onset of non-painful TM joint noises that did not interfere with eating or jaw function. Over time, pain emerged and her bite began to change, altering her profile and appearance. Before long her pain was so debilitating and her bite so altered, that there was no choice but to seek surgical treatment. Both TM joints had “dissolved away” and her jaw profile and bite had to be reestablished.

How could this happen with no history of trauma and no apparent underlying medical disease? The role of hormones, estrogen in particular, has been identified. Research has shown that Estrogen:

  • Impacts the body’s natural pain fighters (endorphins)
  • Increases inflammation in the Temporomandibular Joints
  • Compromises the strength and adaptive ability of all ligaments

These factors, coupled with lower endurance capacity in female jaw muscles, are all that is likely needed for difficult problems to arise. Additionally, research suggests there may be specific genetic predispositions that lead to unprovoked TMJ in women.

Though the treatment that Mary had received has restored function, jaw stability, and reduced her pain, there is still much to learn about gender specific jaw problems.

Dr. Donald Tanenbaum has been practicing in New York City and Long Island for over 20 years. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat bruxism, TMJ and TMD problems, Sleep Apnea, facial pain, muscle pain disorders, nerve pain disorders, tension headaches, and snoring. Learn more about Dr. Tanenbaum <span”>here.

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