There are plenty of disorders and diseases that cause or contribute to chronic pain. TMJ may not be the first disorder that comes to mind when people think of chronic pain, but studies have actually shown that TMJ sufferers report the most “high disability pain.” The jaw pain that accompanies TMJ can make basic daily tasks like chewing or even speaking into excruciating experiences.
Despite the high numbers of people who suffer from chronic pain across the United States — about 25 million by some estimates — it can still be a challenge to find a doctor who cares.The internet is littered with accounts of patients who saw a half dozen doctors before finally finding someone who took their pain seriously enough to find the correct diagnosis. This may be part of the reason why so many cases of TMJ go undiagnosed.
But when it comes to how medical professionals respond to this pain, there may be another factor impacting how seriously TMJ pain is taken: Gender.
Do We Write Off Women’s Pain?
In 2015, one woman’s medical nightmare, chronicled by her husband for The Atlantic, circulated the internet with gusto. The article details how a woman with ovarian torsion, an excruciatingly painful condition that ultimately resulted in a hysterectomy, waited for over fourteen hours in an emergency room while doctors and nurses repeatedly dismissed her pain as overreaction and melodrama. This was a horrifying personal anecdote that mirrors what studies have already shown us: Women’s pain is often not taken as seriously as men’s.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics showed that not only is women’s pain treated less aggressively than men’s, but that women report suffering more severe levels of pain more frequently and for longer than men do. In others words, women’s pain is often worse, but they receive less treatment for it. And when women do report pain, they’re more likely to be prescribed a sedative than a painkiller for it.
This dated notion that women are just being dramatic or oversensitive has a real impact on how medicine handles women’s healthcare. For example, endometriosis, an acutely painful disease that impacts the tissue lining of the womb, has long been under-researched and under-funded thanks to decades of being written off as “women’s troubles.”
Are You a Woman Suffering From Jaw Pain?
When it comes to TMJ, women have actually been found to be slightly more likely to suffer from the disorder than men. Unfortunately, this bias in chronic pain diagnosis and understanding may lead to female TMJ patients not getting the care that they need.
If you’re a woman suffering from jaw pain, recurring headaches, bruxism, or any other common symptoms of TMJ, it’s important to see a medical professional who will see their symptoms for what they are and provide the diagnosis and treatment you need.