TMJ Dysfunction and Pain
What is TMJ Dysfunction?
The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) perform the functions of eating and talking. They have both gliding and rotation functions which are necessary for opening and closing the mouth. TMJ dysfunction and pain are most common in younger adults, especially females aged 18-35.
Symptoms range from pain, jaw muscle stiffness, limited movement, bruxism, clicking sounds, and a change in the fit of teeth.
Causes of TMJ dysfunction and pain are varied:
- Trauma due to blows to the jaw
- Overstretching during dental procedures
- Excessive grinding or clenching of teeth (related to stress)
Often the original cause can remain unknown and new research is investigating a link between female hormones and TMJ disorders. Several studies have also shown a relationship between stress and emotion and TMJ disorders.
A variety of treatment methods focus 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. Some people find a stabilisation splint or bite guard is helpful. While more invasive, irreversible treatments are not usually recommended, surgery may be necessary for some when conservative treatments provide no relief.
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. In TCM this is usually defined as a liver blood and kidney yin deficiency. The lack of sufficient blood and body fluids can lead to a build-up of local stagnation of qi and blood causing ongoing pain. Also, an old injury can flare up or worsen causing chronic problems.
Your treatment plan will be tailored to suit your individual diagnosis, whilst Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can address the pain straight away. At the same time, a more long-term approach will address your constitution. The combined approach of nourishing as well as helping with acute presentations of discomfort means that firstly, you can gain better functionality and pain reduction in the short term. Secondly, working on supporting the body helps to prevent recurrence and reduce chronic suffering.
Research shows the treatment of TMJ disorders with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine is safe and successful. Primarily improving pain levels dramatically, alleviating accompanying problems with chewing or clenching/grinding of teeth and significantly improving quality of life.
Dr Jacqueline Barnett (BTCM) is an AHPRA registered Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal practitioner. She has 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. Jacqueline is also a registered Arvigo® therapy practitioner.