by Mary Vincent, L.Ac.

What Is TMJ?
TMJ is an abbreviation for the temporomandibular joints, which are the joints on the face that connect the lower jaw to the skull and allow the jaw to move up and down, forward and backwards, and side to side. It is common for people to refer to themselves as having “TMJ” when they have pain or dysfunction related to these joints. Pain can be intermittent or can be chronic and last for years. It can cause mild discomfort or be severely debilitating (particularly when the problem is related to the bone or jaw structure itself). At best it causes some discomfort in the most basic life functions—eating, talking, yawning, etc. It affects women more commonly than men, and typically occurs between the ages of 20 and 40.

 Signs and symptoms indicative of dysfunction in these joints include:

* Pain in the jaw joint and/or pain while chewing
* Neck and upper shoulder pain
* Headaches, particularly at the sides of the head
* Ear pain
* Toothaches
* Clicking and/or popping when opening the mouth (locking of the jaw when severe)
* Upper and lower teeth not lining up properly
* Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
* Sinus Problems—some sinus issues can also trigger pain in the jaw muscles

TMJ Disorders and Acupuncture
The most common reason people come in for TMJ pain here at BCA is due to issues with the jaw muscles rather than the joint itself, and this is almost always simply due to grinding or clenching of the jaw muscles in relation to high amounts of stress or anxiety. The person usually experiences jaw pain (often in the morning, as many people clench their jaws during sleep), pain at the base of the skull and upper shoulders, and tension headaches. Acupuncture is extremely effective at relieving tension and pain in these muscles, and more importantly, relieving the feelings of stress and anxiety that are often the root cause of TMJ issues.

Are You Going To Put Needles In My Face???
The short answer to this question is maybe. Depending on an individual’s particular signs and symptoms we may put some needles in the jaw area if we feel this is the best way to relieve the muscle tension. However, acupuncture points on the feet are commonly used to treat disorders of the head and face, and we will likely start there during the initial treatments. We will also, of course, be focusing on stress and anxiety relief throughout the course of the treatments, often by using points on the ears. We usually suggest a person with TMJ pain start with a few to several treatments close together (every day or every other day, depending on severity), and then start gradually spacing out treatments as pain recedes.