Body Sense

SPRING | 2019

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10 Body Sense Do you have TMJ? Let me answer that question: you do. In fact, you have two of them: a left one and a right one. TMJ refers to the temporomandibular joint. TMD is the label for temporomandibular joint disorders—and that is the focus of our discussion here. Estimates suggest that some 10 million people in the United States have symptoms of TMJ disorders—this works out to about 1 in every 8 adults. Women are diagnosed 2–9 times more frequently than men. This is such an extreme discrepancy that some researchers consider estrogen receptors in the jaw to be a possible contributing factor for TMD. People who live with mood disorders (especially anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and depression) or addiction have TMD more often than the general population. And people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are very likely to also have TMD problems: up to 93 percent of people with RA report pain at the jaw. WHAT CAUSES TMD? Here is a short list of possible contributors to jaw pain: • Trauma, for instance, a car accident or blow to the jaw. Trauma can cause muscle strain or irritation, disk displacement, and chemical damage to structures related to inflammation. • Jaw use, in the form of bruxism, teeth-clenching, and repetitive activities like gum chewing or playing the violin. • Occlusion problems. A dysfunctional bite can distort the force that moves through the joint. Research suggests this can be one factor but is usually not alone. • Hormones. As stated previously, a link exists between estrogen levels and TMD risk. Further, the higher a woman's estrogen levels, the more pain with TMD she is likely to report. • Psychological factors, especially about stress management, can be contributors and sustainers of TMJ dysfunction. And having a chronic pain syndrome that interferes with both eating and self-expression is especially challenging. It is easy to see how the stress of dealing with TMD can exacerbate symptoms to the point that jaw pain quickly becomes a whole-body problem. Jaw Pain What is TMJ? And other things you need to know about this sore spot By Ruth Werner

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