What's My Alternative: Acupuncture for TMJ

By Alyse Clacy

For more than a year, Nancy Moore, 60, of Bellingham, Washington, suffered from debilitating jaw pain. Constant jaw clenching and teeth grinding—a result of the stresses in Moore’s life—led her to develop temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), a condition that occurs when the joint connecting the lower jaw to the skull becomes inflamed and limits jaw mobility. “It felt like someone was driving an ice pick into my ear,” says Moore, who often woke up in the middle of the night in pain, had trouble concentrating during the day, and couldn’t eat solid foods.

The Conventional Rx: Moore took ibuprofen to temporarily relieve the pain, but her orthodontist told her the only other option would be to undergo realignment surgery. A possible side effect: facial paralysis.

The Alternative Rx: Acupuncture. Figuring she had nothing to lose, Moore signed up for acupuncture sessions once a week. “TMJ pain occurs when energy pathways—or meridians—are blocked in the body,” says Joyce Marley, an acupuncturist in New Hartford, New York. Often TMJ is associated with an emotional component, like stress, anxiety, or depression, that can cause teeth grinding or jaw clenching. “When an acupuncturist inserts needles into energy meridians in the body, the pathways become unblocked, releasing tension and emotional buildup and allowing healing to occur,” says Marley.

The outcome: Within a few days of her first acupuncture session, Moore was able to eat solid foods again. After just five sessions, her pain was completely gone, and she has remained pain-free for 18 years. “I realized my high-stress life was creating physical pain,” Moore says. “So I left journalism and became an acupuncturist.” Through her practice, Moore feels she’s able to help others discover the power of natural healing.