I grew up with a mother who was a dental hygienist. That meant regular brushing and flossing, braces, retainers, and creamsicle flavoured fluoride of course. Those are the memories of my childhood. Lucky me, right? At least I can proudly say that I still have no cavities or fillings. Thanks, mom.
When I became an acupuncturist, it seemed as if the universe had taken me full circle when I started working with patients who suffer from oral health issues such as TMJ.
So what is TMJ exactly? Temporomandibular joint dysfunction, also known as TMJ, refers to pain and dysfunction of both the muscles that control jaw movement and the temporomandibular joint.
The temporomandibular joint acts like a sliding hinge connecting the jawbone to the temporal bones of the skull, which are located in front of each ear. This allows you to move your jaw up and down and side to side.
TMJ disorder can cause pain, restricted movement, and noises from the temporomandibular joint during jaw movement. Although this does not fall under a life threatening condition, TMJ can be extremely uncomfortable and negatively affect a person’s quality of life.
TMJ can be caused by a number of factors including muscle tension, injury, arthritis, and even anatomical issues. A combination of these problems is often the case. Clenching the jaw and grinding teeth are also factors, often caused by emotional tension.
Fortunately, acupuncture can be an effective treatment in relieving pain, inflammation, tension, and other symptoms commonly associated with this condition.
So how does it work? Acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points on the body, which help to trigger a release of the affected muscle fibers. This comforts the muscles around the jaw, assists the neck and shoulders in relaxing, and encourages free range of movement without pain. Additional points are also selected to address other patient concerns, which may even be contributing to or a result of TMJ. Examples include stress and tension, headaches, poor quality of sleep, etc.
Traditional Chinese medicine focuses on finding out the root of the problem. Why is this problem happening? What caused it? What makes it worse? What symptoms developed first? Why is the body not correcting this problem on its own? These are all questions that a practitioner will address when assessing a TMJ patient. If we can treat the root of the problem, we can eliminate the symptoms and ensure that they don’t return. Treatments will be aimed at opening and relaxing the jaw, allowing the muscles and joint to move freely, while also increasing circulation, reducing stress, and boosting the immune system.
The number of treatments needed for full relief of TMJ symptoms will vary from patient to patient. Acute pain may be eliminated within a few treatments while chronic pain may require treatments over several weeks.
Tamara Gervais is a Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and works out of Oliver Chiropractic Wellness Clinic in Edmonton, Alberta. Tamara was also a member of the Pediatric Integrative Medicine Trial with the University of Alberta, studying the effects of natural medicine on children at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. Tamara’s experience has taught her about the synergistic link between traditional and conventional medical therapies.
Contact our office in downtown Edmonton if you have any questions or want to learn more about Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction.