One of the lesser known symptoms of menopause can affect your jaw. Known as temporomandibular joint disorder, it can respond well to natural treatments.
What is temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder?
Temporomandibular joint disorder (aka temporomandibular joint syndrome or dysfunction) is a condition in which there is pain in the jaw joint and in the muscles that control movement of the jaw. It may be caused by genetics, grinding or clenching the teeth (bruxism), a jaw injury, or arthritis. In many cases, the pain associated with TMJ disorder is temporary and can be treated without surgery.
Symptoms of TMJ disorder include pain or tenderness of the jaw, aching in or around the ear, pain in one or both temporomandibular joints, trouble chewing, locking of the joint, clicking when chewing or opening the mouth, and limited movement of the jaw.
How is TMJ associated with menopause?
In a 2018 study of 140 premenopausal and postmenopausal women, the authors found that TMJ was more severe and common among menopausal women than nonmenopausal women. As estrogen levels decline, it predisposes the temporomandibular joint to degenerate and increases bone loss. Research also has shown that menopausal women are more likely than men their age to develop TMJ degeneration disease (TMJ-DD).
In a recent (2022) study, the authors further cleared up the relationship between TMJ and menopause, noting that TMJ-induced pain and symptoms of menopause are “strongly” correlated especially in postmenopause. They also reported that sociodemographic factors, such as education, have a significant influence on symptoms in early postmenopause.
How to manage TMJ disorder naturally
The symptoms of TMJ disorder often go away without treatment. However, there are some natural approaches you can take to help the process along.
TMJ exercises. You can try various TMJ exercises designed to help relieve the pain of TMJ disorder. They are believed to help relax and stretch the jaw, improve jaw mobility, strengthen jaw muscles, and promote healing of the jaw. These exercises are from the Royal Surrey County Hospital and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Hot and cold. You may benefit from using hot and/or cold compresses with or without doing the exercises. Use a warm or hot towel or ice (not directly on the skin, no more than 15 minutes per hour).
Practice lifestyle changes. Eat a soft diet, avoid chewing gum or biting your nails, and limit yawning, singing, or laughing with your mouth open wide.
Wear a mouth appliance. You can try an oral splint or mouth guard while you sleep. These appliances are inserted over the teeth and allow the TMJ to fall into its natural resting position. You should consult your dentist to get a proper fit.
Acupuncture. Some experts suggest acupuncture may be effective in relieving TMJ disorder symptoms. In a 2021 review and meta-analysis, for example, the reviewers found that warm needle acupuncture provided better results than acupuncture alone, drug therapy, and ultrasonic therapy.
When to call your doctor
You should contact your doctor, dentist, or a TMJ specialist if your pain or discomfort in your jaw persists or if you can’t open or close your jaw completely.
If you experience pain or tenderness in your jaw, especially during the latter part of menopause, you may have developed TMJ disorder. Natural treatments can be effective in relieving TMJ disorder symptoms.