Acupuncture, TCM and TMJ


By Susan Tretakis – The last thing you want to do after financing close to $11,000 worth of dental work is to wake up – three months after the two year process is completed BUT STILL PAYING – with an aching jaw.

The second last thing you want to discover is that while there are no other “dental concerns” as my dentist assures me after an inspection, x-rays and more inspection, he is concerned that I may be grinding my teeth in my sleep and suffering from TMJ or TMD – (temporomandibular joint and temporomandibular pain).

You have to remember that just the thought of a dental appointment surrounds me in a panic-filled cloud of “What will THIS cost me?” Concerns about money-surprises follow me much like the dust cloud that hovers Pigpen’s head in the old comic strip “Peanuts”. So, while I sat there, practicing my yoga breathing and waited to hear the cost of whatever I would now need – a bite plate – a night guard – a piece of wood to chew on while I slept – you can imagine my shock and relief when my dentist said, “You know, your acupuncturist can help you with this.”

A side note: Over four months ago, my dentist started acupuncture after witnessing my success with my weight loss; in fact, he sees my acupuncturist’s brother at another office. My dentist raves about both the doctor and his treatment each time he sees me, which, as you can conclude by this time, is often. While my referral did not generate a dental debt benefit, it does make me feel as if I am partially repaying my Karmic debt for being fortunate enough to find my traditional Chinese doctor and to be able to spread the word about the benefits of acupuncture.

And while I dreaded bothering my acupuncturist with yet ANOTHER topping for my personal pizza of healthcare, I’ll swallow that dread over having to purchase and use any new dental appliance.

GOOGLE tells us that millions of Americans use acupuncture each year, often for chronic pain. As a true, acupuncture groupie, I know acupuncture has helped my joint pain in my hands and knees as well as my headaches and sinus pain. However, even I was surprised to read that “research of traditional Chinese medicine reveals that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of temporomandibular (TMD). It is clinically characterized by pain in the masticatory muscles of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This affects an estimated 10 million Americans, and one-third of adults will experience symptoms of TMD over their life span.”

Score another winning point for Team Acupuncture from the cheerleader who is now a statistic in this group!

Scott Livingstone, L. Ac. writes on his website that “TMJ can be caused by a combination of muscle tension (teeth grinding or bruxism), anatomical problems, and injury. Sometimes there may be psychological component from clenching their jaw during a time of emotional tension, intense determination, or desperation, with most people unaware these muscles can remain contracted for long period of time.”

My dentist did say I showed signs of bruxism, but personally, I think that after undergoing three implant procedures, two crowns and one bridge – along with one tooth extraction – has left me with a totally new mouth. I’ve had to adjust to chewing differently, albeit correctly. And while my bite is dramatically different and much better, I can readily admit to the tension each visit causes as well as my determination to see it through. And while it has been three months since the dental work has been completed, tension, determination – and desperation if I read the daily newspaper – also follow me around in another cloud of dust over my head. To me, these are unfortunate facts of daily life – and apparently, to coin a phrase, “I am leading with my jaw.”

Dr. Livingstone continues to say that “the primary reason acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine is chosen as an approach to healing is because it seeks to resolve the origin of a condition which ultimately results in eliminating the pain and discomfort of the symptoms. Acupuncture treats the root cause – stress, muscle tension, system imbalances, as well as pain in the jaw area, all in one treatment. Acupuncture relieves muscle spasms and decreases pain and swelling, releasing the jaw naturally for the joint to move freely.”

For me, a major benefit is the convenience and potential for resolving number of related issues within the treatment session.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), “Further studies support the idea that acupuncture directly stimulates the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters, among other biological actions. These are naturally occurring substances that dampen and block pain perception by the brain.”

I have to be honest here: whether acupuncture affects Qi or biological chemicals, what is most important to me is that it works!

The NCCIH documents that “researchers found that Traditional Chinese Medicine provided significantly greater short-termed pain relief than self-care, as well as a greater reduction in interference with social activities. They concluded that TCM is safe and can offer an improved quality of life for patients with TMD.” writes that “acupuncture has proven to be effective in treating TMJ in a number of ways. “In Traditional Chinese Medicine, TMJ often represents an imbalance in the liver and gallbladder meridians which traverse the areas usually associated with TMJ pain. Acupuncture points focused on these areas can stimulate the healing process, and return the meridians and body back to balance.”

Healthline also suggests you speak with your acupuncturist about the various herbal remedies to help with TMJ. They list “Rhus Toxicodendron to help relieve jaw stiffness; Kava Root to calm your nervous system and in turn, reduce TMJ symptoms caused by anxiety like a stiff jaw.”

I have to admit there is a sense of Karma with my dentist referring me back to my acupuncturist for care. I appreciate his taking the step to honor both my need for natural treatments as well as his concern for my credit card.

For this, I am grateful.

I also have to admit that I feel badly for my acupuncturist; some weeks my written concerns and issues resemble the mile-long receipts one gets from the local CVS pharmacy. Thankfully, he is smart enough to know that many of my concerns are related – and his treatment plan can cover my list – and probably more.

For this, I am thankful.

If you are suffering with TMJ, give The Acupuncturists a call at (954) 586-2273. Consultations are always free. They are confident that they can help.