Acupuncture is a treatment approach for which evidence of safety and effectiveness in treating TMJ disorders is limited. However, we have learned from some several patients that acupuncture can produce some pain relief for a short period of time.
Soft Food Diet
According to the NAM report, page 5-18, “Changing one’s diet is a type of behavioral modification some individuals with a TMJ [disorder] might undertake to relieve or avoid pain. Pursuing a soft diet and seeking pain-free chewing has been related to important nutritional challenges faced by individuals with a TMD. Given that TMDs can affect an individual’s ability to chew and swallow, serious nutritional challenges and deficiencies can occur.” More research is needed on this subject.
The TMJ Association developed a nutritional guide, TMD Nutrition and You, specifically for people with compromised oral function to help them maintain a healthy diet in spite of their oral disability.
Physical therapists can use multiple approaches to help manage TMJ disorders. According to the 2020 NAM Report, “Some elements of physical therapy—including exercise and manual therapy—have been shown to improve pain and functional outcomes for individuals with TMDs. However, many of the studies are of low quality and further research is needed to support the use of these treatment modalities.” (NAM page 5-17)
Exercise. Exercise is considered a first-line treatment in the physical therapy management of TMJ disorders. Several types of exercise that may be effective include:
- Jaw strengthening exercises: exercises to build jaw strength and endurance
- Jaw stretching exercises: exercise aimed at stretching the soft tissue around the jaw muscles increases jaw opening
- Postural exercises: exercises that improve posture
Manual therapy. To increase motion by stretching the soft tissues and muscles surrounding a joint.
Other Physical Therapy Interventions
In addition to exercise and manual therapy, there are a number of other physical therapy treatments for TMJ disorders that are used clinically, but which lack clinical evidence or have varying degrees of evidence. These include the use of
- heat and cold therapy
- low-level laser therapy
- dry needling
We thank Charles S. Greene, D.D.S., Clinical Professor, Department of Orthodontics, UIC College of Dentistry, Chicago, IL for his many years as the TMJA’s clinical advisor and assistance in writing this section.