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Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice that may help people with a variety of ailments, including pain associated with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and temporomandibular disorders (TMD).

How exactly does acupuncture work, and can acupuncture for TMJ provide relief? Here’s what you need to know before discussing this treatment option with your medical care provider.

What Is Acupuncture?

A study published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine discovered that more than 10 million acupuncture treatments are performed annually in North America. During this treatment method, needles are inserted at various points in the body to stimulate nerves, muscles and connective tissue that can spark the body’s natural painkilling abilities explains the Mayo Clinic. Acupuncture is often used to manage headaches, backaches, dental pain and osteoarthritis. The National Institutes of Health reports that acupuncture has few reported complications when performed correctly by a licensed medical professional. Along with your doctor, a licensed acupuncture professional can determine the proper length and amount of acupuncture sessions you should receive.

Acupuncture for TMJ

TMD occurs when the TMJ, the joint connecting your lower jaw to your skull, experiences pain and fatigue. TMD may cause pain in the fascia, which is the connective tissue that covers the muscles, and the pain may even spread to the neck and shoulders.

While the process of acupuncture is approximately 3,000 years old, according to the Global Advances in Health and Medicine study, recent curiosity about traditional Chinese medicine has increased the medical community’s interest in acupuncture research. The Medicine study concluded that acupuncture therapy is effective in relieving TMJ pain. To treat TMD, a licensed acupuncturist uses various evaluation tools and places sterile needles in specific locations on the body, or acupoints, to reduce pain.

Acupoints for Facial Pain

The journal Pain Medicine defines acupoints as specific sites on the body, either on the surface or below the skin, that contain a high density of nerve endings. Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies identifies a few acupoints throughout the body that may be effective in minimizing orofacial pain, which occurs around the mouth, jaws and face. Surprisingly enough, these acupoints have displayed the ability to help relieve orofacial pain, even though they aren’t located on the face:

  • The back of the hand
  • Between the second and third metatarsal on the foot
  • Above the hyoid bone, which is located in the neck

Other Treatments for TMD

Acupuncture is not the only treatment for TMJ pain. Physical therapy, pain relievers, mouth guards or anti-inflammatory prescription medications may help you manage TMD symptoms.

Maintaining coordination between your trusted dental professional and your medical provider is critical to successfully treating TMD and finding relief from your symptoms. If you want to learn more about starting acupuncture treatment for TMJ pain or any other alternative treatment options, consult your physician.