TMJ Disorders: Unconventionally Speaking
My naturopath doctor asked who referred me to her for treatment.
“Surprisingly,” I said, “my medical doctor, among others.”
“Why are you surprised?” she asked.
“Because I never thought conventional doctors believed in these alternative approaches to healing.”
Several decades ago, that was indeed the case. Few medical physicians believed in, nor recommended, what once was called complementary and alternative treatments. Not only did these doctors dismiss these practices out of hand, but they also viewed some of them as dangerous.
Today, doctors are sitting up and taking notice. Many are not only recommending that you seek what we may call unconventional treatments, but many are working hand in hand with many of these natural providers of healing.
What A Difference 25 Years Make!
So what, exactly, prompted this change of heart? In two words: research results. Well, that and the fact that one third of those seeking medical treatment were also using these unconventional approaches to healing – without informing their physicians! That’s one third of the medical-seeking population!
But, in fairness, the last quarter of a century has made great strides in testing these alternative approaches in order to fairly determine their effectiveness. And for the most part, they’ve stood up to the tests and passed the intense scrutiny of the scientific process.
Today, you can find what’s called “integrative medicine clinics” in many cities. But more than that, some of the nation’s most renowned and accomplished hospitals are incorporating integrative medicine into their services. Among the most notable are Duke University, which has created the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine, and the Cleveland Clinic.
The Cleveland Center routinely offers patients not only the advantage of the best of conventional medicine, but provides its patients with a wide range of such services as massage and Reiki therapy.
Integrative medicine, in a nutshell, is the marriage of conventional marriage and alternative therapies. The foundation of this marriage is based on the concept of healing the person as a whole, not merely treating the symptoms. Perhaps there’s no disorder that can benefit more from this approach than TMJ pain. Very often the pain is triggered by poor posture or eating habits, as much as the structural build of the jaw.
It may very well be that your symptoms can be alleviated with this unique approach to treatment and healing. Before we talk about specific treatments, let’s take some time to talk about three of the largest – and in some cases, the most popular – unconventional treatments for TMJ pain.
Traditional Chinese Medicine: Thousands of Years of Practice
For some individuals, it’s hard to argue with a system of medicine that has withstood the test of time – some thousands of years of time, to be precise. This is one of the modalities of treatment that the medical community dismissed nearly a generation ago.
When you think of traditional Chinese medicine, your mind may immediately race to strange-sounding herbs. But also included in this concept is acupuncture.
At its core, Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at disease and pain fundamentally differently than modern Western medicine. It’s a holistic approach to healing. The diagnosis of a specific illness, for example TMJ pain, is made not only with regard to the innate cause of the pain, but also its location, mechanism, and its very nature. Because of this, two individuals with identical pain or the identical illness could conceivably receive vastly different forms of treatment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine uses what’s known as yin and yang to determine, in part, an individual’s specific therapeutic road. Many of the decisions made through this modality are also based on the use of the universal elements: earth, fire, metal, water, and wood.
The Mutually Dependent World Of Opposites
The theory of yin and yang comes from the ancient Chinese religious practice of Taoism, which itself is well-grounded in the workings of the natural world around us. Literally, these two terms refer to the bright and dark aspects of an object. This translates into use as the interpretation of opposites in general. Hot versus cold. Fast as opposed to slow. Feminine compared to masculine. Well, you get the idea.
In this Eastern modality, opposites are in simultaneously in conflict while being mutually dependent on each other. This seemingly contradictory theory is called the “unity of opposites.”
What does this have to do with your TMJ pain? Quite a bit, actually. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that your health is in a constant state of motion and change. In a healthy individual, the natural ebb and flow of yin and yang stays contained within specific bounds, maintaining a healthy balance. When one side dominates over the other, however, the evidence of disease appears.
Now, What About The Five Elements?
Actually, Traditional Chinese Medicine’s concept of the five elements is based on a similar theory to yin and yang: Your body’s relationship to nature. According to this type of therapy, the elements are used to help balance your body. Just like the concept of opposites, water, fire, metal, wood, and earth are in constant flux with each other.
None of these work independently, but rather are dependent on one another in order to produce a unity. As long as the elements are in a harmonious balance, your health is sustained. Should any element decide to take control while others take a back seat(so to speak), the result is pain and disease.
All of your body’s organs, Traditional Chinese Medicine says, possess characteristics that align remarkably well to these five natural elements. Just as the elements interact with each other, so do your organs. When any element encroaches or dominates over another, disease occurs. While all five elements are in balance health flourishes.
The Tools of The Trade
About now you’re wondering how these theories translate into treatment. With emphasis on therapies tailored to the individual, the practitioner concentrates on using five techniques in providing you with an effective treatment plan. These are observation, your senses of hearing and smell, direct questions, and touch and palpitation.
The observation process may not be exactly what you expect. Don’t be surprised when you make your initial visit to a practitioner of Chinese medicine if he spends some time looking at your tongue. The techniques of touch and palpitation primarily involve the pulse.
While a variety of treatments are used, Traditional Chinese Medicine centers around, in large part, the use of herbs. Herbal therapy is such an ancient and revered form of healing that this system uses what’s called the Materia Medica, a pharmalogical reference book.
No herb “prescribed” by a practitioner is done so haphazardly. The Materia Medica not only lists literally hundreds of various herbs and their uses, put it also lists minerals and even animal product substances. These items are organized according to their perceived action on your system.
Another tool Traditional Chinese Medicine makes use of is acupuncture. When it was first introduced in the United States, the medical community scoffed at the procedure. Today, however, after nearly 25 years of clinical study, the view of this modality has stood up to the intense scrutiny. Many conventional doctors now believe that it can be a valuable aid in the treatment of TMJ pain.
A staple of Chinese medicine for literally thousands of years, this form of therapy places tiny needles into your skin along certain strategic points called meridians.
According to the traditional Chinese theory, these needles, when placed in the proper area for your particular problem and symptoms, balance the flow of your life energy or life force. In Chinese, this is called qi or chi – pronounced chee.
The Western view of this explanation of differs. Medical professionals believe the insertion of the needles stimulates not only your nerves and muscles, but your connective tissue as well. In addition to that, this therapy boosts your body’s active painkilling mechanism, and increases blood flow.
Acupuncture relieves the root cause of your pain instead of masking it temporarily.
While this therapy may be able alleviate your pain, you need to make sure that it’s performed by an accomplished acupuncturist. If you’re at a loss of where to start searching for one, start with asking your friends and family. They may have used one.
You’ll also want to ask natural health practitioners who are receptive to this type of treatment. They may have already referred other patients to acupuncturists.
Lastly, once you find one, don’t hesitate to ask to visit prior to committing yourself to a session. You want to make sure that everything in the office is clean, the needles sterile, and ensure that she is knowledgeable.
The sister treatment
Another Chinese therapy, based on the principles of acupuncture, is acupressure. In this treatment you apply pressure to certain points of your body to eliminate your TMJ pain. And the best part of this is that, for the most part, you can apply it yourself. Many books and web sites exist that can explain the points you press in order to apply pressure to the proper area.
As with acupuncture, acupressure works by the stimulation of certain meridians for specific symptoms.
Originating in India, the Ayurvedic system of healing is thought to be the world’s oldest — even older than Traditional Chinese Medicine. Ayurvedic, by the way, means “science of life” in Sanskrit. And today, it still remains extremely popular as a healing modality in India. More than 90 percent of the Indian population us some form of Ayurvedic medicine.
An entirely holistic form of medical treatment, this revered approach cures through its creation of harmony among the three essential aspects of your very being: body, mind, and spirit. When these aspects are balanced, health is the result.
Not only does this system include herbal remedies, but it provides specific dietary guidelines.
If you’re considering using this system as a part of your overall TMJ treatment, then it’s essential you enlist the help and guidance of a trained Ayurvedic professional. It’s not a system that you can pick off the shelf and use on your own. Its ability to cure is based on its individualized approach. There are no generic guidelines. A professionally trained advisor can help you tailor a regime that fulfills your needs for nutrition, exercise, and even personal interests, as well as just about every other area of your life.
Included in this overall approach are such therapies as dincharya, a daily personalized regime, as well as what’s called ritucharya, a seasonal routine.
Remember, physical health isn’t the only goal of this holistic medicinal approach. Its goal is also to create mental and spiritual health as well. That’s why the personalized approach is so vital.
Interested in this system? Before you even approach a qualified Ayurvedic professional, consider reading about the system. One of the classic texts is entitled Charak Samhita. The knowledge accumulated in this book dates back to 800 BCE and was compiled by Charaka, an instructor at the University of Taxila, considered to be one of the oldest universities in the world.
Another useful and informative volume is the Sushruta Samhita. This book was compiled by Sushruta, and it holds healing secrets that originate from 700 BCE.
Not only does it offer an excellent and comprehensive explanation of Ayurvedic medicine, but it also provides a definition of the approach, as well as revealing health secrets regarding the importance of the state of your blood. You’ll also discover a great description of the five subdoshas of Pitta, and the marma points.
Developed in Germany, homeopathy is a mere child in age when compared to Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Nearly 200 years old, it too is a natural system of healing based on the theory that “like cures like.”
It has been used in the U.S. since the 19th century. In addition to treating diseases, homeopathy, its advocates say, is also an excellent preventive tool in keeping illness at bay.
In addition to the fundamental groundwork of “like cures like,” another key principle is that of dilution. You may also hear it referred to as “the law of minimum dose”. It says that the lower the dose of any homeopathic substance administered, the greater its effectiveness. Substances used in treatment, then, are diluted in a step-by-step fashion, and then shaken vigorously between each step.
A homeopathic doctor treats each person according to his individualized needs. It very well could be that two people, each complaining of TMJ pain, could walk out of the doctor’s door with vastly different health care plans.
Before administering any substance, homeopathic doctor examines the overall needs of his patient, paying close attention not only to her genetic and personal health history, but also her body type. Additionally, he evaluates the individual’s physical, emotional, and mental symptoms.
The remedies used in this system are derived from not only plants, but also minerals, and even animals. Some of the most popular substances used are arnica or mountain herb, red onion, and stinging nettle.
Almost four million Americans are already using this natural system as part of their overall health blueprint.
Below are a few of the substances that could be used in a comprehensive approach to treating your TMJ symptoms. It’s advisable not to administer these independently of a trained homeopathic professional.
If you do decide to visit a specialist in this area, be sure to consult with your personal health care provider before beginning the treatment. In this way you can be sure that no homeopathic substances will react adversely with any prescription medications you may be taking.
Some of the remedies used routinely in the care of TMJ pain include causticum, hypericum perforatum, ignata, kalmia, magnesia phosphorica, rhus toxicodendron, and Rhus graveolens.
But these aren’t the only tools the homeopathic specialist has in his black bag of healing. One substance that is very effective to mitigate the pain of TMJ is called ferrum phosphoricum. This biochemic salt helps your body absorb iron, which is essential in the maintenance of your body’s myelin sheath that surrounds every tissue in your body. This sheath is indispensable to the delivery of iron to your nerve cells.
Not only does this remedy help to relieve headaches, it also helps to banish feelings of irritability and tension, as well as tiredness.
A legendary homeopathic pain reliever, magnesium phosphate also benefits your nervous system. This substance naturally relaxes your muscles and is a tremendous anti-spasmodic agent.
Kalium phosphate is a well-known and effective brain and nerve tonic. It literally nourishes your nervous system. By the way, it’s the most commonly recommended tissue salt for dispelling worry and distress.