Anyone — regardless of age, race or gender — can develop temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which is commonly characterized by jaw pain and chronic, migraine-like headaches.

Yet TMJ is more prevalent among women, with some sources suggesting that women may be twice as likely as men to suffer from TMJ. The Mayo Clinic indicates that the primary risk factor for TMJ is being a woman between the ages of 20 and 40.

TMJ Jaw Pain in Women

A recent Today show report asked, “Why does my jaw hurt?” and proceeded to discuss four health symptoms that women should not disregard. Jaw pain can be an indicator of other dental health problems, such as a cavity or gum disease, but if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as headaches or the jaw sticking or locking, it may be a sign of TMJ.

Without treatment, the discomfort associated with TMJ can become worse, and jaw movement can become progressively impaired. A doctor interviewed for the Today report recommended that women visit their dentist if jaw pain lingers for more than a few days, especially when other TMJ symptoms are present.

Why is TMJ More Common Among Women?

Why TMJ occurs at a higher rate among women is not entirely understood. A 2001 study of TMJ disorders in women noted that approximately 80 percent of those who seek treatment for TMJ are female, and that the onset of associated TMJ pain corresponded with the peak reproductive years, indicating a possible hormonal link.

Subsequent studies have also connected hormones, particularly estrogen, to TMJ discomfort. The findings of a 2013 study suggest that high estrogen levels may aggravate TMJ-related osteoarthritis by gradually eroding the cartilage and bone that aid in jaw function.

That said, there are a number of other factors that can contribute to the onset and severity of TMJ. These include, but are not limited to, jaw alignment problems, malocclusions (bite conditions), and bruxism (teeth grinding).

Treating TMJ Disorders

Treatment for temporomandibular joint disorder depends on the cause and severity of your condition. Many patients find relief with occasional TENS therapy; TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and the treatment entails a mild electrical current to massage the jaw muscles and allow the jaw to settle into a comfortable position.

Others benefit from an oral appliance, often referred to as a bite splint. This device is custom made to fit your unique bite structure, and it fits comfortably over your teeth similar to a sports mouthguard to promote an optimal position for your jaw. Depending on the severity of your condition, it may be enough to simply wear it at night. Others may benefit from all-day wear.

Rockland County dentist Dr. Mark Dunayer engaged in extensive postgraduate training in neuromuscular dentistry and TMJ treatment at the renowned LVI Global dental institute, and he has helped a number of patients find long-term relief from TMJ pain. If you suffer from jaw discomfort and recurring headaches, please call B & D Dental Excellence at (845) 627-7645 to schedule your appointment at our West Nyack, NY, office.