Of all the joints in the body the jaw joints or TMJ’s ( temporo-mandibular joints) are the only ones that move simultaneously. This creates problems that are unique to the jaw area. TMJ disorders can occur when the joint’s disc erodes or moves out of its proper alignment, the joint’s cartilage is damaged by arthritis, the joint is damaged by a blow, or the joint muscles become fatigued from overwork. The muscles that move these joints are small and have to work hard- they are involved in speaking, eating, laughing, yawning and singing- and it is relatively easy to overwork them.
Stress can also take a toll on the TMJ joint- a lot of people grind their teeth when they are stressed, nervous, or angry, or during their sleep, which puts enormous strain on the small joints and muscles. We can also cause strain to the area through our eating habits, like biting off hard food like chocolate or carrots. 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, and difficulty opening the jaw.
In Western medicine,TMJ disorder can be treated with physiotherapy and massage and with exercises, which teach us proper jaw alignment. Usually the results of this treatment are positive. Medications such as anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and cortisone may be prescribed.
Acupuncture can help with TMJ disorder in a number of ways. When it comes to pain, acupuncture can give fast and positive results. Acupuncture can also help reduce inflammation to the area, as well as bring blood and energy circulation to the area, all of which help to promote 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 (partly). A deficiency of Blood and Energy (Qi) in these meridians is usually the cause of the pain. Blood and Qi will stagnate and can cause severe pain and stiffness.
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.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.