Jaw Problems

The temporomandibular joint (also known as the TMJ) is a hinge connecting the jaw to the skull. There’s one in front of each ear. They let the jaw move up and down and side to side, allowing chewing, talking & yawning, and are some of the more complex joints in the body. The parts of the joint that rub against each other are covered with cartilage and separated by a small shock-absorbing disc.

People often refer to pain and problems with the temporomandibular joint as TMJ, but it’s also known as Temporomandibular Disorder, or TMD, and symptoms can include:

  • pain or tenderness in your jaw joint area, face, neck, shoulders, and around the ear when chewing or talking
  • headaches or migraines
  • popping, clicking or grating sounds in the jaw joint
  • jaws that get “locked” open or closed
  • facial muscle fatigue
  • facial swelling
  • toothache
  • earache
  • Dizziness or vertigo

These symptoms come from problems with the jaw muscles and/or the jaw joint itself, sometimes caused by various types of arthritis, jaw/head/neck injury (due to whiplash, for example) or chronic teeth grinding.

We’ve noticed a common vicious cycle involving stress-caused clenching which causes jaw pain which causes poor sleep and then more stress. We see good results using acupuncture to interrupt this vicious cycle, and acupuncture is an excellent treatment for pain of all kinds, including chronic pain. See also, our article, “Chronic Pain, Part 2: Treating the Nervous System“.

We find acupuncture to be quite effective for easing the tension headaches, shoulder tension and upper back pain often accompanying TMD.

This is a good time to remind you that we don’t stick needles in the pain. We find needling other areas of the body at specific points on the arms, legs, hands and feet to be super-effective pain to treat pain in other areas. Practicing this way, we don’t have to worry about making things worse by aggravating an already painful area—or scaring people by putting needles in the face.*

If you have questions about how acupuncture can help you with jaw pain and TMD, please get in touch.

*Our teacher, Dr Richard Te-Fu Tan, liked the light switch analogy: “If you want to turn on a light, what do you do? Do you drag a ladder over to reach the lightbulb in the ceiling and turn the bulb? Or do you flip the switch on the wall? What makes more sense? When doing acupuncture, I’m telling you, use the switches!”

A practitioner sets a needle into a patient's wrist as the patient reclines in a lazyboy. Two other sleeping patients are visible in the background.
photo by Vanessa Tignanelli

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