Can Acupuncture Help with Your TMJ Pain?

Drugs are hardly the only solution when it comes to TMJ pain. Take acupuncture, for instance.

New research in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies offers some new evidence that the therapy may provide at least temporary relief from TMJ problems by rebalancing the energy (Qi) along the meridians.

The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is a hinge for your jaw. There’s one on each side of your head. Injury, misalignment, and behaviors like bruxing can damage these joints and adjacent structures and cause them to work incorrectly.

Here’s how the TMJ functions normally:

Here’s how it looks in one type of dysfunction:

TMD can lead to ongoing problems with headaches and pain in the jaws, face, neck, and shoulders. You may have ringing in your ears or other hearing issues. You may feel toothache-like pain. You may have popping, clicking, or grating sounds when you chew. It can become hard to even open your mouth.

Suffice it to say, TMD is no fun.

But back to the study, in which 43 TMJ patients were separated into two groups. For four weeks, one group was treated with traditional acupuncture; the other, with sham acupuncture (no needle penetration). Meridian assessments were taken before and after each session.

acupuncture diagram of headInterestingly, both groups experienced less pain. Both groups experienced a decrease in Yang energy.

But only those who received real acupuncture maintained Yin energy levels over the course of the study. They were also more able to open their mouths on their own without pain.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Yin and Yang energies must be balanced to maintain good health.

Increasingly, the medical establishment is accepting acupuncture as a valid treatment for various forms of pain. In fact, earlier this year, the FDA gave it a preliminary endorsement for pain management.

On a similar note, the Joint Commission – a major medical accreditor – also now recognizes acupuncture as an effective stand-alone or combination treatment for TMD. According to commentary in Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, this turnaround provides great opportunities for integrative pain treatment.

[Integrative clinicians can] use it to convince naysayers by showing them that the evidence behind these services and practitioners in pain treatment has been prevetted by a conservative organization that serves as medicine’s police force. Notably, the pharmacologic approaches are appropriately—if only for alphabetical reasons—listed prior to pharmaceuticals. Clearly these typically more high-touch, time-, and human-intensive approaches are not relegated to the past role of if all else fails, try acupuncture.

Of course, there are other therapies that can help, as well, in providing long-term relief from TMJ problems without drugs and without surgery. The key, as ever, is to identify the cause and address that through treatment suited to that specific cause. In some cases, that might be appliance therapy; in others, DTR; in others, neural prolotherapy.

One size seldom fits all.

Image by Mot

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Acupuncture & Dentistry

acupuncture points on headWhen it comes to complementary medicine, acupuncture is often the first therapy people think of. After all, traditional Chinese acupuncture has a long and rich history – 2500 years, in fact.

Yet despite the test of time, the US has been slow to accept its benefits.

Those benefits certainly have a role to play in dental care, spelled out nicely in a 2014 literature review in the journal Medical Acupuncture.

Focusing on systematic reviews and research articles written in English, researchers plugged in key words specific to dentistry: acupuncture in dentistry, myofacial pain, temporomandibular disorders, xerostomia, dental pain and gag reflex.

As you may know, this Eastern practice uses specific points on the body’s energy highway – the meridian system – to stimulate the nervous system. This stimulation changes the way the nervous system processes pain signals and encourages the body to release its own painkillers, namely serotonin and endorphins.

And while technically, acupuncture means to “puncture with a needle,” stimulation can be achieved using a variety of techniques – for instance, moxibustion, electroacupuncture, acupressure, cupping, or microsystem acupuncture.

Whatever the technique, research shows that such stimulation

  • Normalizes physiologic functions.
  • Eases pain.
  • Modulates the limbic-para-limbic-neocortical network.
  • Increases local microcirculation.
  • Protects the body from infections.

Back in 1979, the World Health Organization endorsed acupuncture to treat just 43 symptoms. Less than two decades later, that list expanded to 64. By 2003, controlled trials had shown acupuncture to be effective in treating a number of dental conditions, including

  • Dental pain.
  • Dental anxiety and gag reflex.
  • TMJ/TMD.
  • TMJ clicking and locking.
  • Chronic muscle pain or spasm.
  • Atypical facial pain.
  • Headache/Migraine.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Nerve pain.
  • Paresthesia.

“In dentistry,” write the authors of the review,

the ability of acupuncture has been proven for managing various chronic orofacial disorders. There are numerous reports of randomized controlled trials on the analgesic effect of acupuncture for postoperative pain caused by various dental procedures and by other chronic disorders. According to the literature, acupuncture is more effective than a placebo or sham acupuncture.

Of course, as they say, more studies still need to be done. But we think it’s a good bet that, as an adjunct to good dental care, acupuncture offers promise as a nontoxic, safe alternative for treating dental symptoms with few, if any, side effects.

Image by Elizabeth Briel