Is TMJ Genetic? A Little Bit Yes, but Mostly No
Boutique Dentistry for Nashville, Tennessee
In trying to help people track down the cause of their TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder, also called TMD), one thing that people want to know is: is TMJ genetic? They want to know less about whether they inherited TMJ from their parents than whether they will pass it on to their children. They are also concerned about whether a family member developing TMJ means they are at risk or not.
This is a hard question to answer, but it seems likely that the answer is that TMJ is more environmental than genetic.
Potential Genetic Markers
One of the biggest studies of TMJ risk factors, called OPPERA (Orofacial Pain: Prospective Evaluation and Risk Assessment) identified genetic risk factors that could potentially be associated with TMJ.
OPPERA recruited thousands of people from around the country without TMJ and looked at who developed the condition to attempt to identify risk factors. The study confirmed two genes that had already been flagged as being potentially linked to TMJ, and also identified five others that might be linked to TMJ.
However, the researchers didn’t express high confidence in these markers, although they did note that these could be used to help target people for treatment.
Twin Heritability Study
Another recent study looked at this question using an identical twin study. This study sought to determine the genetic links between TMJ and neck pain. This study looked at data from over 2200 adult female twins. They found that 8.6% of twins had TMJ, while 46.8% had neck pain. About 6.7% of twins reported both TMJ and neck pain.
When researchers analyzed the heritability for TMJ, they found that it did have some degree of heritability, but it was probably more influenced by environmental factors.
Does TMJ Run in Your Family?
Although TMJ is more related to environmental factors than to genetic factors, that doesn’t mean you can’t be at higher risk for TMJ if people in your family develop it. First, there is some degree of heritability (0.35 for people who want the number), which means that you might develop it due to genetic factors.
Second, things run in the family for more than just genetic reasons. People often develop TMJ due to stress-related behaviors. These behaviors are often learned in the home environment, either from parents or from siblings.
If family members have developed TMJ, it’s a good idea for you to talk to a neuromuscular dentist at the first signs of TMJ symptoms. TMJ treatment is usually more successful if we start it early.