According to new research, males and females may have completely different mechanisms for experiencing pain. This new discovery may open the door to gender-specific pain treatments that could better target ailments like TMJ that tend to be skewed toward one sex or another.
The Immune System and Pain
At one point, scientists mostly focused on the role of nerves in controlling and conveying pain sensations, but more recent research has revealed that the immune system has an important role to play in mediating pain sensations. That’s where this difference in pain experience was discovered.
Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) discovered that male mice had a pain experience mediated by immune cells called microglia. These immune cells respond to inflammation or nerve damage by changing shape and releasing chemicals that amplify the intensity of pain signals in the spinal column. The activity of these microglia is moderated by testosterone levels.
Researchers then found that, as expected, a non-testosterone system was used in female mice. Female mice used a different immune cell, T-cells, to perform the same role. In some situations, such as when there was excessive amount of testosterone available, female mice would use the microglia-related system.
A Systematic Blindness
Considering how many pain-related disorders are reported more by women than men — including fibromyalgia, migraines, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in addition to TMJ — it is surprising that this hasn’t been discovered before. The research team reports that this was due to a systematic error in the study of these pain mechanisms: they involved male mice almost exclusively.
But recently the National Institutes of Health (NIH) introduced a new policy: preclinical research must include both male and female animals and cell lines in research. With this change, the difference became obvious.
Customized Pain Treatment
At Smile Columbia Dentistry, we have always tailored our TMJ treatment to individuals. You won’t get standardized treatment designed for someone else’s pain. We will apply a wide variety of techniques to help you get the treatment that works best for you.