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TMJ Dysfunction and Dental Treatments

Pain in the jaw or problems with the functioning of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) are not uncommon. Sometimes TMJ dysfunction also includes discomfort in the head, neck or other related regions. Symptoms can range from very mild problems, such as minor jaw tension or clicking or popping of the joints, to very severe symptoms, such as excruciating pain or locking of the jaw. If the condition involves a severely damaged joint, surgery may be required, but more often than not, your health professional can help you find other treatment solutions to successfully manage your problem.

TMJ symptoms can be brought on or made worse by physical injury or overstretching of the jaw muscles, such as during a long dental procedure. Occlusal disharmonies (imbalances in your bite) and emotional stress and tension can also play a role. Your dental professional may address some of these problems by making adjustments to your bite. They may also recommend a splint or bite guard if you have a habit of clenching or grinding your teeth. During acute flare-ups, it may be suggested that you go on a soft food diet to allow your jaw muscles to relax.

Individualized Plan to Care for your Jaw

Your dental professional may also recommend other interventions such as physical therapy, neuromuscular massage and biofeedback-assisted relaxation training. These treatments can often be helpful for both surgical and nonsurgical candidates. At Integrative Therapies, you can expect to receive an individualized treatment program and a combination of therapies that best address your particular problem.

Physical Therapy (PT) and Neuromuscular Techniques

If you have been carrying tension in your jaw for a long time, the muscles may have become adaptively shortened, compromising the movement of your jaw or creating imbalances in your jaw function. In this case, manual muscle release can be very beneficial. Trained therapists can determine specifically what muscles are involved and gently use their hands to promote relaxation, structural balance and pain reduction. Gentle joint mobilization or stabilization exercises are often included to promote healthy joint movement.

Postural disturbances can also play a very important role in TMJ problems. Physical therapists often note that the vast majority of TMJ sufferers exhibit a forward head placement which puts enormous stress on the jaw joint. There are a variety of exercises, movement therapies and clinical massage techniques that can assist in supporting healthy dynamic posture and symptom control. A gentle form of manual therapy, called craniosacral therapy, has also been found to be helpful for many people dealing with jaw problems

PT "Modality" Treatments

In physical therapy, the term modality typically refers to the application of some type of instrumentation directly to the body. Modalities often utilize a form of energy from the electromagnetic spectrum such as sound, light or heat to support the healing process. In the case of TMJ dysfunction, applications are likely to be applied directly to the jaw or surrounding area and may include the following:

  • Ultrasound or Iontophoresis
  • Infrared Light Therapy or Cold Laser Treatment
  • Cranial Electrical Stimulation (AlphaStim®)
  • Interferential or Microcurrent Stimulation
  • Trigger Point Electrotherapy (Pointer Excel II)

Biofeedback, Relaxation Training and Stress Management

As TMJ problems are frequently made worse by stress and muscle tension, biofeedback-assisted relaxation training is often included in the treatment program. Biofeedback is a simple procedure that involves placing sensors on the skin that measure muscle tension around the jaw joint or nearby musculature. This gives you immediate feedback about how relaxed or tense your muscles are. Other types of biofeedback such as heart rate variability or neurofeedback can be used to help calm the autonomic and central nervous system. Additionally, your therapist will coach you on learning new strategies for relaxation and pain management. When life presents multiple challenges, stress management training by a professional counselor may also be beneficial.


Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

At Integrative Therapies, acupuncture is practiced within the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It involves the use of very fine needles placed on points along the body's meridians (pathways of energy or qi) to help restore balance. Sometimes the acupuncturists may choose to put needles locally in the area of pain - around the ear and around points along the jaw. It is also likely that the practitioner will place needles along meridians in other areas of the body that can influence TMJ symptoms. Some of the most powerful acupuncture points to treat jaw problems are located near the big toe, elbow and knees. If grinding of the teeth is an issue, a point on the lower leg may be included to address teeth grinding (bruxism). Typically, five to seven acupuncture sessions would be needed to treat someone with TMJ dysfunction, although chronic jaw problems may require a longer period of intervention.

Your "Toolbox" for Self-Care: A Personalized Home Program

Although your treatment team has many clinical tools at their disposal, the most important element in getting well and maintaining a healthy jaw is participation in your own personal home program. Each person's jaw problem is unique and requires an individualized treatment plan. Your therapist will help you identify the factors contributing to your symptoms and support you in making changes in your posture, oral habits or other lifestyle issues that may be relevant to your condition. Simple but effective exercises and self-care strategies go a long way toward getting you smiling again. You may be surprised at how much power you actually have in managing your TMJ symptoms!


7E Oak Branch Drive    •    Greensboro, NC 27407    (336) 294-0910