Acupuncture works for Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD)

Early in my career as an acupuncturist, my clients introduced me to the nuances of Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD).  TMD is a general diagnosis that represents a group of often painful and/or dysfunctional conditions involving the muscles of chewing and/or the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) located just under the ear.
This is a special and complex joint, since it can act as a lever, it can shift side to side, and can slide a bit forward and backward…..this complexity makes it very useful and adaptable for eating and talking, but also can make it vulnerable.  Research indicates that about 10% of the population is affected, and 30-year-old women are most likely to be affected by TMD. The main signs and symptoms of TMD include TMJ clicking, muscle, soft tissue pain and/or TMJ pain, and abnormal jaw movements.
Over the years, I have really come to appreciate and understand the complexity of the problem, which is much more than an issue with the TM joint itself. Any combination of jaw pain, headaches, neck tension, inner ear issues may be related, which is why they can be referred to as a TMJ “syndrome”.
I was also able to apply this knowledge and experience to one of my own children who was diagnosed with the problem, which was considered urgent by the medical team.  What I realized in practice was that not only acupuncture could help lesson the symptoms, but could help enough to lessen a client’s dependency on anti-inflammatory medication and to substantially increase life quality.
In some cases I saw people work intelligently to avert more radical interventions.  In the case of my child, and several other clients now, we were able to avert surgery by adapting a combination of acupuncture, awareness of structure/function of the jaw, tongue, and posture, and implement dietary and life style changes to the treatment plan.
A recent review published in the journal “Medicine” (Acupuncture therapy in the management of the clinical outcomes for temporomandibular disorders;A PRISMA-compliant meta-analysis, by Wu et al, 2017, Medicine).  This team of 8 doctors and scientists looked at nine eligible research studies from 8 publications involving 231 patients.  They analyzed the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture therapy in TMD patients and concluded that acupuncture therapy has greater effectiveness and reduces the pain degree to a greater extent, especially myofascial pain symptoms, compared with both sham (fake, non-penetrative) and sham laser therapy.

Gord Grant, PhD, RAc

We have a really good resource on our bookshelves regarding TMD called “The TMJ Healing Plan: Ten Steps to Relieving Headaches, Neck Pain and Jaw Disorders” by Cynthia Peterson, a physiotherapist who specializes in TMD syndromes.   I can’t tell you how many people I have helped with this book!  It was a client who brought this book to me early in my acupuncture career and let me know how much it had helped her. This book integrates a combination of education and simple tips.   It helps you understand and address the structure and function of the issues, how to become more aware and implement many changes that can as a whole make a big difference.  It helps you to better discuss the matter more confidently and intelligently with your doctor or therapist to make informed choices.  You can borrow it from my clinic or order it on amazon for under $15!