The tempromandibular joints (TMJ) are the jaw joints—the hinges where the lower jawbone meets the skull.
These are the joints that allow us to talk, yawn and chew. Because the muscles that move these joints are small and have to work hard, it’s relatively easy to overwork them.
TMJ disorders can cause pain or tenderness in the jaw, aching pain in and around the ear or in the facial muscles, difficulty chewing, headaches, locking of the joint and difficulty opening the jaw and an uncomfortable or uneven bite because of tooth misalignment.
TMJ disorders can also cause a clicking sound or grating sensation when chewing or opening the mouth.
TMJ disorders can be caused by many different types of problems—including arthritis, jaw injury, or muscle fatigue from clenching or grinding your teeth.
The TMJ combines a hinge action with sliding motions.
The bones of the joint are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk, which keeps the movement smooth.
TMJ disorders can be caused when the disk erodes or moves out of its proper alignment, the joint’s cartilage is damaged by arthritis, the joint is damaged by a blow or other impact, or if the muscles that stabilize the joint become fatigued from overwork, which can happen from clenching or grinding the teeth. In many cases, however, the cause of TMJ disorders isn’t clear.
Western medical treatment of TMJ disorders may include medications such as painkillers, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, or cortisone or Botox injections, a bite guard to protect the joint against teeth grinding or clenching at night, cognitive behavioural therapy to better manage stress and tension, massage therapy to relieve tension and physiotherapy to promote proper jaw alignment. In severe cases, surgery or corrective dental work may be considered.
Acupuncture can help with TMJ disorder in a number of ways.
When it comes to pain, acupuncture can give quick and positive results, relieving the pain and tenderness of the TMJ disorder.
Acupuncture can also help reduce inflammation to the area, as well as bring blood and energy circulation to the area, helping to promote the body’s healing.
The muscles will begin to relax and automatically correct the opening movement.
The meridians that have connections to the jaw belong to the gallbladder, triple burner, small intestine, stomach and large intestine so an internal imbalance in one of these meridians, whether due to our genetics or our lifestyle, can lead to pain in the jaw along that meridian.
This can help direct us to the underlying cause of a TMJ disorder, giving us a picture of the internal imbalance that may make the TMJ prone to injury or pain for some people.
A deficiency of blood and qi-energy in one of these meridians can cause severe pain and stiffness because of a lack of proper nourishment to the affected tissues.
The combination of acupuncture with other therapies and removing stress to the area can help to resolve this disorder.
Things that can be done to reduce stress on the TMJ joints include maintaining a relaxed jaw posture, avoiding clenching or grinding teeth, avoiding overusing the jaw muscles such as avoiding sticky or chewy foods and cutting food into small pieces and working to reduce stress and anxiety.