In my practice, we see four distinct categories of facial pain problems.
It would seem that these problems could affect anyone, but in fact, the vast majority of patients that walk through the door of my practice is are women! Believe it or not, somewhere between 78% and 82% of all the patients that I see are female.
In the past this dominance of women was attributed to social and cultural factors that prompted women to seek care more frequently than their male counterparts. Research over the years however has provided evidence that there are biologic factors that are likely driving this huge statistical difference.
One big biologic difference between men and women relates to the hormone estrogen. Studies have shown that variable levels of estrogen not only have the ability to impact on the effectiveness of the body’s endorphins (our natural pain fighters) but can also increase inflammation associated with the Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ). Also worth mentioning is the fact that the jaw muscles of women appear to receive less blood flow (and therefore less oxygen) than the same muscles in men, making them more susceptible to tire more easily.
In addition, as oxygen levels in muscle tissue drops during function the chemical makeup of the muscle changes with lactic acid and other irritating substances accumulating overtime. This chemical change leads to muscle soreness initially and then muscle weakness and susceptibility to spasm as time passes. These factors therefore may be responsible for the predisposition women have in developing facial pain and jaw problems.
In addition, estrogen is known to compromise the strength and adaptive capacity of ligaments throughout the body. As a result the supportive jaw ligaments in women are likely to become more readily compromised when subjected to the forces of normal function and certainly to excessive functions like gum chewing, nail and cuticle biting, and clenching or grinding of the teeth. As a result symptoms of jaw clicking, popping and locking are more likely to occur, persist and escalate in women when compared to men.