Temporomandibular Disorders: Signs, Causes, and Acupuncture for TMJ

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is quite a common problem among Americans. It affects the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your jawbone to your skull, causing pain and discomfort in the jaw, ears, and face.

TMJ’s exact cause is difficult to determine since this disorder can be provoked by many different factors. Still, pain in TMJ is often temporary and can be alleviated with self-care measures or alternative treatments, such as acupuncture.

Acupuncture has provided significant results in addressing temporomandibular discomfort and delivering long-term improvements. The procedure is safe, painless, free of side-effects, and excellent for all those who want to avoid surgery.

This article will provide more useful information about the benefits of acupuncture for TMJ and the potential causes of this particular jaw disorder.

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What is TMD?

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a condition characterized by jaw pain and discomfort. It affects the temporomandibular joint responsible for connecting your jaw with your skull, causing aching facial pain and difficulty chewing or opening mouth.

Symptoms of TMD

The most common signs of TMD include:

  • Jaw pain and tenderness
  • Pain in one or both temporomandibular joints
  • Aching pain around your ears
  • Difficulty chewing or pain while doing it
  • Facial pain
  • Locking of the joint.

You may also feel a clicking sound, persistent pain, and tenderness in your jaw. In some cases, a person is not able to open or close the mouth completely. TMD is not always followed by these symptoms – a person may not feel pain or limitation of movement, only the jaw clicking.


Potential Causes of TMD

The exact cause of TMD is not always clear. However, trauma to the jaw or temporomandibular joint often triggers a wide range of jaw problems, but the symptoms of TMJ disorder can even start without a particular reason.

The most common causes of TMD include:

  • Inflammation and irritation: The pain associated with TMD can be triggered by inflammation in the jaw joint, while the irritations often result from grinding your teeth, clenching your jaw, or chewing gum frequently.
  • Genetics: A misalignment of the teeth or bite is genetic, and it causes joint irritation.
  • Stress and anxiety: Clenching the jaw and grinding the teeth are natural responses to stress and anxiety, and they lead to developing this disorder.
  • Poor posture: Muscles around your head, neck, shoulders, and jaw can become overworked due to the poor posture.
  • Injuries: Jaw injuries can tighten the muscles in the jaw and the face, causing a severe irritation around the jaw joint.

Since TMD is more common in women than men, there might be a possible link between TMJ and female hormones.

TMJ and Acupuncture: Can Traditional Chinese Medicine Solve This Problem?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) specializes in many fields, but it is mainly focused on alleviating the symptoms of chronic pain provoked by different factors, including temporomandibular disorder.

The most commonly TCM approach used for addressing the jaw pain is acupuncture. It involves the use of small, fine, acupuncture needles to stimulate the specific acupoints of the patient’s body. Acupuncture promotes pain reduction and helps decrease the stress levels, encouraging the release of tender facial muscles.

Acupuncture has been widely used to boost circulation and reduce the signs of inflammation. Therefore, it can alleviate TMJ disorder’s symptoms provoked by certain irritations of a joint or a nerve.

Although it differs from the techniques used in Western medicine, acupuncture has gained popularity lately. More and more patients opt for this treatment since it is entirely safe, natural, and drug-free. It is quite beneficial for boosting the immune system, improving the nervous system function, and allowing more mobility in the joints.

Acupuncture for jaw pain works by restoring the flow of the vital energy (qi) that flows through invisible pathways (meridians) in the human body. By encouraging the energy circulation, acupuncture helps alleviate the pain sensation, improving the quality of nerve cells responsible for the ache. When using acupuncture for TMJ pain, an acupuncturist inserts the needles where the pain is located, usually around the ears and the jaw. The acupuncture points for TMJ include:

  • ST6 (Jawbone): ST6 is located on the cheek, one finger anterior and superior to the mandible’s lower angle. It is used to remove the wind from the face and alleviate the pain in the jaw and teeth.
  • ST7 (Below the Joint): It is found anterior to the ear, and its stimulation is vital for TMJ, facial pain, and lower jaw toothache.
  • GB3 (Upper Gate): Found in a depression above ST7, in front of the ear, this point is crucial for eliminating intensive headaches.
  • Taiyang (Great Sun): This acupoint is located at the temple, and it is critical for eliminating the signs of headache, toothache, facial paralysis, and other symptoms of TMD.

A practitioner may use other points to provide better results and address TMD symptoms with a higher efficiency level. That said, the needles may also be inserted near the elbows, knees, and a big toe. These secondary locations can alter the qi flow, enhance muscle relaxation, boost pain relief, and improve inflammation signs.

Unlike medications, which provide only a symptomatic relief, acupuncture for TMJ pain targets the root of the condition by helping you achieve the balance between body and mind. By reducing stress and anxiety, acupuncture helps to relax muscles and relieve the TMJ discomfort provoked by increased stress levels.

Acupuncture for TMJ and Other TCM Techniques

Acupuncture can be used as either standalone therapy or in combination with other TCM techniques. Experienced practitioners combine it with different approaches to provide more comprehensive treatment for temporomandibular disorder patients.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine has been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of conditions associated with different aspects of your health. Herbal therapies are beneficial for alleviating the pain provoked by TMJ disorder, and their major advantage is the fact that they are entirely natural and drug-free.

A certified Chinese herbalist focuses on your general health instead of offering a short-time solution. An adequate herbal formula treats the core issue that provokes certain symptoms, improving your general health, and promoting the organism’s self-healing abilities.

Chinese herbs are often used together with acupuncture for TMJ disorder to boost the treatment’s effect and foster healing. The most commonly used herbal remedies for jaw pain include:

  • Rhus Toxicodendron (Poison ivy): This herb is incredibly efficient in relieving jaw stiffness.
  • Kava Root: Kava has excellent calming effects, and it is used to alleviate TMJ disorder symptoms caused by stress or anxiety.
  • Magnesia Phosphorica: This is a homeopathic remedy that eases muscle stiffness and has a strong antispasmodic effect.

Your practitioner will suggest various combinations to create the best formula for your symptoms and core condition. The best thing about Chinese herbs is their versatility – for example, a formula consisting of ingredients for treating depression will also address all the byproducts of the problem, including pain, stiffness, and insomnia. Hence, it will solve the TMD-related issues.


Acupressure for TMJ Disorder

Applying a gentle massage to the critical points around your jaw will ease the pain you feel due to the temporomandibular joint stiffness. Acupressure for TMJ disorder shares the same idea as acupuncture, but it involves using hands instead of needles to stimulate the specific points on your face.

A certified acupressure practitioner will apply pressure slowly, making sure nothing hurts. These are the most common TMJ acupressure points:

  • Jaw bone point: This is the muscle that bulges out between the upper and the lower jaw. You can feel it when you clench your molars together.
  • Wind screen: This is the soft indent located under your earlobe. This is quite a sensitive area, which is why your practitioner will apply light pressure on it.
  • Listening palace: You can find this point in front of your earlobe. An acupressure practitioner will apply pressure to both lobes at the same time.
  • Wind pool: You will relieve the discomfort by pressing this point, located on the back of the neck at the skull base.

Jaw Exercises

Your acupuncturist will recommend certain jaw exercises to strengthen the temporomandibular joint and ease the signs of jaw clenching, pain, and difficulties opening and closing the mouth. For instance:

  • Open your mouth as wide as you can without feeling pain, and then move your jaw to the right and hold for 10 seconds. Do the same to the left and repeat 5 times.
  • In a downward motion, massage the muscles around your jaw hinge.

Lifestyle Changes

Holistic healthcare practitioners, such as acupuncturists, will encourage you to introduce some vital lifestyle changes to improve your overall health, ease the signs of TMJ disorder, or any other condition you might face.

You can begin with simple diet modifications and a low-intensity workout. These changes will reduce your stress and help you embrace a happy and healthy life without being dependent on medicines.

Alongside acupuncture for jaw clenching, your practitioner may suggest some vitamins and minerals to help strengthen the joints and prevent severe jaw injuries. People with TMJ disorder often have calcium and magnesium deficiencies, which is why they are recommended to take these minerals through food and supplements.

Eat more foods rich in magnesium, such as cashews, avocados, almonds, sesame butter, squash, spinach, rice, and flaxseed. To enhance your calcium intake, consider milk, coconut, yogurt, bananas, etc.