Temporomandibular joint disorder is a condition that affects the jaw joints. Researchers estimate that 35 million people in this country are affected, but women are five times more likely to experience TMD than men. Not only is their chance of developing the condition greater than their male counterparts, but their symptoms are also often more severe.

What Is TMD?

As we mentioned, TMD affects the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) that connect the lower jaw to the skull. It also impacts the muscles that surround these joints and causes pain, swelling and stiffness of the jaw. Serious cases can also cause the jaw to lock open or closed.

Why Are Women Affected at Greater Rates?

Some of the theories as to why women get TMD more frequently than men include:

Hormonal Changes. The hormonal changes in the hormones estrogen and progesterone that occur during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause could be a culprit in an increased risk of developing TMD. The thought is that these hormones cause the ligaments of the jaw to become laxer and potentially cause problems for the TMJs.

Pain Level. Some studies have shown that women can have eight to nine times more pain than men due to higher levels of pain perception biochemicals in the body.

Physical Structure. The physical structure of the jaw may also be a reason why women are at a greater risk of developing TMD. Jaw development matters because the male jaw is less obtuse than the female jaw, which gives it a more stable foundation when in use.

Stress. How women respond to stress versus how men respond to it also matters. Women are more likely to clench and grind their teeth than men, and often have poor breathing habits, including mouth breathing. These habits can increase strain on the TMJs.

Family History. Some studies have shown that some individuals have a gene variant that makes them more sensitive to pain. They’ve also found that this gene variant is more common in individuals with TMD than people without TMD. The variant has also been found in other individuals with chronic pain conditions, including facial pain, migraine and chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Additionally, the variant has been found in people living with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea.

Whether these factors are the definitive cause of TMD in women is unknown, but all these factors can make TMD more painful.

Living with TMD or painful jaw problems? Call Dr. aan Zyl in Rogers, Arkansas, today to schedule a consultation.