Some estimates suggest that over ten million Americans suffer from TMJ. But despite the prevalence of the disorder, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding its cause. Despite the best efforts of the medical research community, much of the process that leads to this common disorder remains unknown. Researchers have looked into everything from childhood stress to tongue piercings in an effort to identify causes of TMJ. Piece by piece, risk factors are being identified to put together the puzzle of TMJ.
What’s Different About TMJ in Women?
Researchers aren’t sure why, but studies on risk factors for TMJ have exposed a few gendered differences.
For example, one case-control study of nearly 300 women between the ages of 18 and 60 found that smokers had a higher probability of having TMJ than non-smokers. These findings were then reproduced through analysis of national surveys from both the United States and Australia.
Unfortunately, while nicotine provides a short-term analgesic effect that some people suffering from TMJ may find attractive, the effect of nicotine in the long term far outweighs its short-term benefits: Smoking actually changes pain perception, meaning that habitual smokers are more sensitive to pain triggers than the average person.
Luckily, the study also showed that former smokers were less likely to report TMJ symptoms than current smokers, which seems to indicate that quitting smoking could help reduce the pain of TMJ. However, the same study also found a correlation between women with TMJ and women with allergies — and quitting allergies is a less helpful solution!
TMJ Treatment Reduces Symptoms
Regardless of why someone has TMJ, the symptoms can range from unpleasant and disruptive to excruciating and life-altering. Jaw pain can make day-to-day activities difficult or uncomfortable, or even cause poor nutrition. Headaches and migraines can keep people with TMJ from their work and even their families. The tension caused by TMJ can even reach throughout your body, causing pain in the neck, shoulders, and back, or causing numbness or tingling in the fingers.
While research into the causes of TMJ could help inform treatment in the future, the information is less than valuable to current TMJ sufferers. More helpful are the treatment options that are available right now.
If you are diagnosed with TMJ, an experienced TMJ dentist can help. First, they’ll analyze your jaw by taking measurements, listening to the sounds it makes when you move it, and using a TENS treatment (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) to observe your jaw in a fully relaxed state. Then, they can make treatment recommendations based on their analysis. For some people, periodic TENS treatments are enough to bring relief. Others may be better suited to a bite splint, or even reconstructive dentistry to permanently restructure the bite.