The temporomandibular joint (called the TMJ) is the joint that connects the jawbone (the mandible) with a portion of the skull called the temporal bone. Unlike many joints, the TMJ has a fibrous disc in between the two bones that gives extra strength & mobility. Many people refer to any pain at this area as “TMJ” when it should really be called “TMJ disorder”.
The evidence for acupuncture on TMJ disorder is still developing. But by and large TMJ disorder can be treated the same way as any other muscle or joint pain. For any pain that’s a result of inflammatory change, arthritis, or trauma, acupuncture can be very helpful. Many patients use acupuncture to stop inflammation and help the joint move more easily. In these cases acupuncture is often curative.
Even still, the unique structure and use of this joint can cause some extra complications. Because we use the TMJ every day to talk and chew, it can easily become prone to disordered movement. So, sometimes TMJ pain involves problems with a person’s face or jaw structure, or chewing & dental habits (including clenching or nighttime grinding). If pain is caused by these, then those causes must be addressed if the pain is to go away completely. In these cases acupuncture can help relieve pain and stress, and help coordinate muscle movement. It is common for patients with these problems to have good relief from pain but sometimes they also need help from another provider (like a dentist) to help eliminate pain completely.
TMJ disorder often goes along with headaches or migraines, and can be caused by or aggravated by jaw clenching. And if can also make chewing your food a real chore. So it’s important to deal with this early if you have it. If you’re not getting relief from your dentist or PCP, consider scheduling a consultation and give acupuncture a try!