Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a condition that affects the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and is characterized by pain in the masticatory muscles located in this area.
The pain is felt in the jaw, neck, face, head, and sometimes in the shoulders. TMD may cause your teeth to erode due to the improper alignment of the jaw which may result in chipped or worn teeth.
TMD has varying causes including accidents and in some cases; stress. Males are thrice as likely to contract this disorder.
According to The Journal Of The American Dental Association, TMD affects about 10 million Americans, and nearly a third of adults shall experience symptoms of this disease during their lifetime.
Even though a lot of people use acupuncture for chronic pain every year, this treatment method has been marred by controversy surrounding its significance as a therapy treatment option or whether it is just another placebo.
However, studies on ancient Chinese medications have revealed that acupuncture is indeed effective in not only treating myofascial (muscle) pain but also in TMJ disorders.
How Acupuncture Works
While how acupuncture works to relieve TMJ pain is a process that is not entirely comprehended, ancient Chinese theories purport that, as a traditional therapy, acupuncture works by restoring equilibrium in the flow of Qi (energy).
Modern research on acupuncture has given the medical reasons on why this traditional treatment is successful as a therapy option.
During the 70s, there were numerous reports appearing in Western medical journals which suggested that acupuncture reduced pain by directly stimulating the nerve. This, in turn, alters the signal quality in the nerve cells.
In fact, other studies suggest that this treatment suppresses the spinal dorsal horn neurons and the nociceptive trigeminal nucleus caudalis by controlling the release of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides.
Further research endorses the idea that acupuncture works towards the direct stimulation of neurotransmitters and endorphins release in addition to other biological tasks.
Endorphins and neurotransmitters are chemicals that occur naturally in your body, and they help reduce pain by blocking your brain’s pain perception.
Additional studies are required for us to understand fully how acupuncture works because many of its effects are still not explainable by the current medical theories.
Whether it is by manipulating Qi or biological substances, what matters more is the available evidence which shows that acupuncture does work.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) propose that the results derived from various acupuncture studies reveal that it helps relieve osteoarthritis (knee pain), chronic lower back pain, and neck pain.
Acupuncture also helps in preventing migraine headaches and in reducing the frequency of tension headaches.
How Acupuncture is applied in Treatment of TMJ Conditions
Acupuncture alleviates TMJ symptoms by clearing the neuromuscular tension that might be in the jaw.
It does this by stimulating areas known as acupressure points to relieve stress from those sections.
Here are some acupressure points utilized in acupuncture to help alleviate stress in the jaw:
Stomach36 or St36 is the most significant acupressure point on your face, and it assists in jaw tension relaxation and thus relieving jaw pain plus other TMJ symptoms such as dental neuralgia, toothaches, and lockjaw.
Commonly referred to as the jaw bone, St36 is located between the lower and upper jaw, on the connective muscle that bulges when you clench your molars.
There are two ways of stimulating this acupressure point. First, press the palm of your hands in the middle of lower and upper jaws right in front of the earlobes and gently but firmly apply pressure for a minute while breathing deeply.
Secondly, put the tips of your fingers on the jaw muscle and apply pressure firmly for one minute.
Breathe deeply as well. Stomach36 is also convenient in the treatment of cheek swelling, twitching of facial muscles, and facial paralysis or pain.
Also known as the Small Intestine 19, SI19 is a valuable point when doing acupuncture facelifts and is also utilized by acupressure to solve a wide array of health problems.
This acupressure point is referred to as the Listening Palace and is found just in front of the ear hole in the depression that forms when you open your mouth.
You can stimulate SI19 by using the tips of your middle fingers to press this point on both sides while inhaling deeply for one minute.
Small Intestine 19 is effective in treating TMJ issues, ear problems, toothache, tinnitus, deafness, and epilepsy.
Triple Warmer 21 or TW21 is another crucial acupressure for teeth and jaw problems. It is also referred to as the Ear Gate.
TW21 is situated 1 and a half inches above the SI19 pressure points on both sides of your face.
TW21 and SI19 can be stimulated by simultaneously applying pressure on both points using the index and ring fingertip on TW21, and the middle fingertip on SI19.
Focus on these points by firmly applying pressure for a minute while breathing deeply.
TW21 is useful in alleviating headaches, TMJ disorders, toothaches, earaches, joint pains, and internal ear pressure.
The Gall Bladder 2 is also another auditory convergence ear point and is situated a half-inch beneath the SI19.
GB2 has proven to be quite helpful in alleviating ear conditions such as deafness and tinnitus alongside TMJ conditions, facial paralysis, and toothaches.
The Gall Bladder 2 is best stimulated when it is done together with TW21 and SI19.
Apply pressure on all these acupressure points simultaneously for 1 minute while taking deep breathes.
The Gall Bladder 20 (GB20) is another useful acupressure point found in the neck region in a point just beneath the base of your skull.
They are either of the two hollow regions that are two inches apart at the back of your neck.
This acupressure point is known as the Wind Pool and is stimulated by pressing your thumbs in the two regions and applying pressure towards the base of the skull for about 2 minutes as you breathe deeply.
The GB20 is a vital point for treating jaw pain, headache, and stiff neck. Additionally, it is useful in treating nasal congestion, common cold, dizziness, eye problems, and vertigo.
The Gall Bladder 1 is an important acupressure point found in your face and is situated in the eye’s orbit on the side of your face.
It is also referred to as the Pupil Bone Hole. GB1 is the most significant acupressure point when dealing with eye issues.
It is stimulated by using your ring and idle fingertips to apply pressure on both sides of the face.
Press your fingertips steadily for a minute and then release gently and gradually.
While stimulating the GB1, you can also incorporate some jaw muscle exercises to help cure Bell’s palsy and facial paralysis. It can also be used in the alleviation of inflammation and headache.
The Small Intestine 18 (SI18) is yet another facial acupressure point that is referred to as the Cheek Bone Hole.
You can feel this pressure point at the lower edge of your cheekbone, right down from the outer corner of your eye.
You can stimulate the SI18 by firmly but gently applying pressure on the point on both sides for a minute using your thumb and middle finger.
The Cheek Bone Hole is effective in rectifying eyelid twitches, toothaches, facial paralysis, and cheek swelling.
The Triple Warmer 17 is a vital acupressure point situated in the hollow region beneath the earlobe. Also referred to as the Wind Screen, TW17 is effective in relieving tension in the jaw.
To stimulate it, gently press it using your middle fingertips and hold for 1 minute while taking deep and long breaths.
TW17 is a tender acupressure point hence it is imperative that you use minimal pressure.
Its benefits include toning the facial muscles, treating ear pain, mumps, facial spasms, lockjaw, facial paralysis, toothache, itchy ears, and jaw pain.
Is Acupuncture Effective?
Several clinical studies have verified the viability of acupuncture as an effective therapeutic treatment for facial and head pain.
Although acupuncture might not be able to eliminate the cause of TMJ disorders that arise from structural anomalies such as displaced disks or degenerative disks, acupuncture can alleviate the discomfort and pain associated with these conditions.
There is evidence to show that acupuncture helps in reducing muscle spasms by relaxing the muscles of the origin of the spasms is muscular.
Acupuncture can and is administered to help restore balance in the organs that control the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Acupressure, when applied by a well-trained individual, can assist in treating TMJ disorders or alleviating the symptoms that accompany these problems.
When the specific points in your body that are related to meridians are massaged, issues such as jaw tension, headaches, neck pain and other TMDs can be alleviated.
Now you acupuncture can help you get rid of that irritating jaw problem and facial muscle pain.
If your dental physician and pharmacist know your schedule like clockwork, it might be the time to give acupuncture a try.