Natural TMJ Treatments

Woman with jaw pain
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TMJ syndrome is a disorder of the temporomandibular joint, the structure that connects your jaw to the side of your skull. Also known as TMD or TMJ, the condition can cause pain to radiate throughout your face, jaw, and neck. Often aggravated by chewing or yawning, TMJ syndrome can also trigger jaw stiffness or painful clicking in the jaw. In some cases, TMJ syndrome even alters the way your upper and lower teeth fit together.

TMJ syndrome is typically caused by teeth grinding, stress, and behavioral factors like excessive gum chewing. Arthritis and trauma to the jaw can also result in TMJ syndrome.

Along with jaw soreness, stiffness, and clicking or popping, TMJ symptoms include ear and neck pain, headaches, and difficulty in opening the mouth completely.

Natural Treatments for TMJ

So far, scientific support for the claim that any natural remedy can treat TMJ is lacking. Here are three popular natural approaches:

Acupuncture: By inserting thin needles into specific points on your body, practitioners of acupuncture strive to stimulate the flow of energy throughout your system. Research shows that the ancient Chinese therapy may promote the release of endorphins, which are brain chemicals known to ease pain.

For TMJ syndrome, acupuncturists may insert needles around the ear and the jaw, as well as near the elbows, knees, big toe, and other areas. While the number of acupuncture sessions necessary to treat TMJ may vary from patient to patient (depending on factors such as symptom intensity), the results may be remarkably long-lasting. In one Swedish study published in 2008, for instance, scientists found that the majority of TMJ patients who had received acupuncture 18 to 20 years earlier experienced an enduring improvement of their symptoms.

Biofeedback: Through biofeedback training, you can learn to control your muscle tension and other body processes that are usually involuntary (such as heart rate and breathing). Particularly helpful for treating stress-related conditions, biofeedback can teach TMJ patients to stop unconsciously stiffening their jaw muscles. By keeping your jaw muscles relaxed, you may eventually tame TMJ pain.

There are several different types of biofeedback, but a technique called electromyography (EMG) is used specifically to measure muscle tension. In one 2006 study, TMJ patients who underwent six weeks of EMG biofeedback sessions had significantly lower pain levels and fewer doctor visits than those who only received dental care for their disorder.

Massage Therapy: Regular visits to a massage therapist can release muscle tension in your jaw, as well as help lower the overall stress that prompts TMJ pain. But performing a simple self-massage can also go a long way in soothing soreness. Indeed, a 2007 study found that massage (along with hot and cold therapy) provided the greatest pain relief among commonly practiced self-care strategies for TMJ treatment.

When you experience a TMJ-related ache, massage your jaw muscles with small, circular motions for at least two or three minutes. For added relief, try massaging with a wet, hot washcloth.

Using Natural Remedies for TMJ

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend any natural remedy for TMJ. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using any form of alternative medicine, make sure to consult your physician first to discuss the potential risks and benefits.

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Article Sources

  • Bergström I, List T, Magnusson T. "A follow-up study of subjective symptoms of temporomandibular disorders in patients who received acupuncture and/or interocclusal appliance therapy 18-20 years earlier." Acta odontologica Scandinavica 2008 66(2):88-92.
  • Gatchel RJ, Stowell AW, Wildenstein L, Riggs R, Ellis E 3rd. "Efficacy of an early intervention for patients with acute temporomandibular disorder-related pain: a one-year outcome study." Journal of the American Dental Association 2006 137(3):339-47.
  • Riley JL 3rd, Myers CD, Currie TP, Mayoral O, Harris RG, Fisher JA, Gremillion HA, Robinson ME. " Self-care behaviors associated with myofascial temporomandibular disorder pain." Journal of Orofacial Pain 2007 21(3):194-202.