Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are a group of complex problems of the jaw joints that lead to pain and/or dysfunction in these joints. The jaw joints are composed of a network of muscles, tendons and bones which we rely on day to day to open and close our jaw for everyday tasks such as talking and eating. TMJ disorders are caused by overuse of, or tension in the jaw muscles, typically caused by certain behaviours or conditions such as teeth grinding, dental problems, stress and chewing gum habitually.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of TMJ disorders include the following:
- Headache and facial pain, especially with opening and closing the jaw;
- Ear pain, usually in front of or below the ear. Patients are often mistreated multiple times for a presumed ear infection;
- Sounds such as grinding, popping and crunching;
- Fullness in the ear leading to a sensation of muffled or clogged ears.
These can be chronic debilitating symptoms that interfere with patients’ quality of life and often in their ability to work or function on a day to day basis.
What can be done for TMJ disorders?
Current biomedical treatment for TMJ disorders include anti-inflammatories, painkillers, muscle relaxants, physical therapy and corticosteroid injections. These tend to offer short-term symptomatic relief and with some reporting unpleasant side effects. A systematic review published in 2010 looked at randomised controlled trials investigating the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating TMJ symptoms. It showed that acupuncture:
- was more effective than physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication and no treatment;
- had positive effects similar to those of occlusal splint therapy, where a plastic mouth guard is worn to cover your upper or bottom set of teeth;
- posed no serious safety risk.
The review suggested that acupuncture was as effective as treatments that are currently offered and the study authors concluded that there was 'moderate evidence that acupuncture is an effective intervention to reduce symptoms associated with TMD'.
These effects are potentially due to the following effects that acupuncture has demonstrated in other studies:
- reducing muscle tension and spasm to relax the affected area
- reducing inflammation by encouraging the body to release naturally occurring anti-inflammatory chemicals;
- encouraging your body to produce endorphins which help combat pain.
For more information about TMJ or if you're interested in discussing your symptoms with us, please get in touch and we'll be happy to advise you further.