TMJ Dysfunction and Pain
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are designed to perform the functions of eating and talking. They have both gliding and rotation functions which are necessary for opening and closing of the mouth. TMJ issues are a common occurrence in the population; with higher occurrence in younger adults; especially females aged 18-35.
With the broad range of symptoms from pain, jaw muscle stiffness, limited range of movement, bruxism, clicking sounds and a change in the fit of teeth with which TMJ dysfunction presents; there is no one straight approach to diagnosis and treatment in standard Western medicine practice.
Causes of TMJ dysfunction and pain vary from trauma due to blows to the jaw or overstretching during dental procedures to excessive grinding or clenching of teeth – often related to stress in patients; to more chronic problems such as arthritis. Often the original cause can remain unknown and new research is investigating a link between female hormones and TMJ disorders due to the higher prevalence in females.
A variety of treatment methods are available in Western medicine with many focusing on symptom relief such as eating soft food, applying ice packs, learning stress-reducing techniques, and gentle jaw stretching and relaxing exercises. In addition, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen may be taken, or a stabilisation splint or bite guard may be used. While more invasive, irreversible treatments are not usually recommended, surgery may be necessary for some when conservative treatments provide no relief.
Several studies have shown a relationship between stress and emotion and TMJ disorders; controlled research found patients with TMJ disorders to be psychologically more distressed.
What can Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture do?
In TCM, causes for TMJ disorders are seen as either an external injury due to trauma or internal deficiency; or maybe a combination of both. This deficiency relates to patients often with weaker digestion. Longstanding digestive dysfunction can lead to chronic weakness of the sinews due to ongoing lack or nourishment – usually defined as a liver blood and kidney yin deficiency in TCM. The lack of sufficient blood and body fluids can lead to a build-up of local stagnation of qi and blood causing ongoing pain, or even an old injury from trauma can flare up or worsen causing chronic problems. The fact that younger adults mainly suffer from recurrent problems, and 45-60-year-old patients often suffer from chronic and persistent pain, supports this theory.
The treatment approach follows each patient’s individual diagnosis – acupuncture and Chinese herbs can address the pain straight away. At the same time, a more long-term approach will address a patient’s constitution. The combined approach of nourishing as well as helping with acute presentations of discomfort means that the patient can gain better functionality and pain reduction in the short term, while also working on supporting the body to prevent recurrence or reduce the chronic suffering.
Research done in the field shows that the treatment of TMJ disorders with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is safe and successful; improving pain levels dramatically, alleviating accompanying problems with chewing or clenching/grinding of teeth; in this way, significantly improving quality of life.
Dr Jacqueline Barnett (BTCM) is an AHPRA registered Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal practitioner with a particular passion for digging deeper into the mind-body connection. She holds a Bachelor of Traditional Chinese Medicine from Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is also a registered Arvigo® therapy practitioner.
Make an appointment today to see Jacqueline and discuss how she can help get you back to optimum health.