Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) affects over 10 million Americans, causing pain and dysfunction in the jaw–specifically the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This disorder is associated with jaw clicking, lockjaw, pain while eating or swallowing, and inflammation throughout the jaw bone causing headaches. It is quite the painful disorder, with many Americans looking for a solution that fits their situation best. One option that has popped up recently is estrogen for TMD pain.

Understanding estrogen

In recent studies, it has become apparent that women are at a higher risk for TMD, specifically during their reproductive years. This is a relatively new discovery, but it is a discovery worth exploring further. Without getting too technical, understanding the role of estrogen in relation to TMD can be quite complex to understand. As many of us know, estrogen is the female hormone whereas testosterone is the male hormone. Though men and women possess both hormones, men are built with more testosterone, while women are built with more estrogen. It’s just part of what makes humans unique!  

What role does estrogen play in TMD?

Unfortunately, an abundance of estrogen can play a big role in the inflammation aspect of TMD. Estrogen is made up of two receptors, both of which are found in the temporomandibular joint–resulting in more inflammation.The most common scenario in which estrogen creates inflammation is by the stimulation of toll-like receptors (TLR). The result is a transmission of pro-inflammatory messenger molecules. 

With estrogen receptors living in the dorsal root ganglion and trigeminal nerve nucleus, pain is increased. To understand this further, it is important to note that the dorsal root ganglion functions as a holding tank for sensory cells to send sensory information to the spinal cord. With increased estrogen, these sensory cells are working overtime. 

What does this mean for women? 

To put it bluntly, women are more prone to TMD than men. The fact that estrogen is proven to influence pain receptors may explain why women experience a stronger level of discomfort with TMD. With a fluctuation of estrogen levels throughout a woman’s life, the pain may come and go. Estrogen levels spike in puberty years, peak during reproductive years, and eventually fade through menopause years. There are many phases of the female body in which these estrogen hormones can fluctuate and change. And as always, pain varies from woman to woman. No woman will have the exact same experience as another. 

Treatment plans

As with a typical TMD case, there are many treatment plans available such as nightguards, medication, therapy, or surgery. However, research is underway for hormone replacement therapy in relation to TMD. Since it is still a relatively new topic, the traditional treatment plans for TMD are a doctor and patient’s best bet. 

Contact Dr. Sara at AZ Sleep & TMJ Solutions in Scottsdale to learn more about your risk for TMD and what treatment options are available.