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Alternative Medicines for Temporomandibular Disorder


The temporomandibular joint is the jaw joint on both sides of the head that allows the mouth to open and close. When the joint and surrounding muscles and ligaments malfunction in some way, it's called a temporomandibular disorder, or TMD. Contributing factors include grinding the teeth, an incorrect bite, injury, or osteoarthritis.

Biofeedback Training for Temporomandibular Disorder

Biofeedback training can greatly benefit people with TMD by teaching them to relax the jaw muscles and reduce overall stress, eliminating the need for such habits as clenching the teeth. Electromyographic biofeedback, which measures muscle tension, is commonly used to treat TMD. Electrodes are attached to the patient's skin in the area of the jaw joint to measure the electrical activity in the muscles. A special monitor "feeds back" the level of this activity, which reveals the amount of tension in the muscles. Using this information, the patient can learn to lower the tension with the use of relaxation exercises, guided imagery, breathing exercises, and other methods.

Here's an excerpt of a guided imagery exercise that may be used during biofeedback training:

  • Close your eyes and take several deep, slow breaths, focusing on each inhalation and exhalation.
  • Imagine something soft and cushionlike (such as a pillow, cloud, or balloon) sitting in the space where the lower jaw hinges with the skull on each side of the head. See how much room these cushions have.
  • Picture slowly inflating these soft cushions, allowing in as much air as needed.
  • Feel these cushions relaxing your muscles. See how easy and freely your jaw can move.

Acupressure for Temporomandibular Disorder

Acupressure operates on the principle that TMD results when the body's flow of vital life energy, or qi, is disrupted or unbalanced. Applying manual pressure to certain points can rebalance the flow through the body's energy channels or meridians. The acupressure points typically used to treat TMD include:

  • SI19 -- on the cheek directly in front of the ear canal
  • ST6 -- between the lower jaw and skull
  • GB20 -- at the base of the skull, on either side of the spine
  • Taiyang -- on the temples between the hairline and eyebrow

ST36, located a couple of inches below the kneecap (on the stomach channel), is commonly treated to relieve headaches focused on the front of the head. Self-treatment may include a program of several acupressure points performed two or three times a day.

Craniosacral Therapy for Temporomandibular Disorder

Craniosacral therapists hold that TMD can result from misaligned bones in the skull. This misalignment blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid -- a clear, watery liquid that cushions the brain and spinal cord from their encasing bones.

Treatment involves palpation (examination with the hands) to check for any skull and spinal bones out of their ideal placement and to assess whether the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid is adequate. Any adjustments needed to correct misalignments are also performed with the hands.

Many chiropractors, osteopaths, and naturopaths are trained to perform craniosacral therapy. Treatment would involve manipulation of the bones of the head and neck and pressure to points inside the mouth.

Other Temporomandibular Disorder Therapies

  • Bodywork for Temporomandibular Disorder -- Massage can relieve stress and ease muscle tension.
  • Chiropractic Medicine for Temporomandibular Disorder --Treatment can include spinal manipulation as well as craniosacral therapy. Often, people with TMD also experience back pain.
  • Herbal Therapy for Temporomandibular Disorder -- Many herbs can be helpful. Examples include white willow bark for pain relief and chamomile and peppermint to soothe tension.
  • Hypnotherapy for Temporomandibular Disorder -- Hypnosis can teach people to reduce tension and control habits (such as teeth grinding).

For more information on temporomandibular disorder and alternative medicine, see: