Acupuncture isn't new. It's a time-tested form of traditional Chinese medicine that’s been around for thousands of years. It's used to reduce pain and anxiety, improve sleep, and boost general wellness. When it comes to acupuncture for bruxism, scientific studies offer evidence of the treatment’s effectiveness. They also suggest a few reasons why an acupuncturist's meticulously placed needles can help combat teeth grinding.
To help you decide whether to try acupuncture, we'll look at why this treatment could work for bruxism. We'll also answer some basic questions about acupuncture. Then, we'll briefly explore other treatments that can be used either independently or in conjunction with acupuncture.
Can Acupuncture Help To Stop Teeth Grinding And Jaw Clenching?
Researchers are seeking proof of whether acupuncture can effectively treat a wide array of health conditions (including TMJ). While there are many studies about acupuncture, only a few focus on the treatment’s effects on bruxism.
One study reported in PubMed measured hypertonicity, or excessive tightness, in the jaw muscles of patients. Researchers tested acupuncture's effects on four distinct jaw muscles. They discovered that both acupuncture and non-acupuncture needle contact with designated points delivered notable relaxation in three of the four targeted muscles.
A separate study that appeared in the Archives of Health Investigation explored how acupuncture’s effects on the central nervous system could play a role in treating bruxism. Here, researchers examined acupuncture's ability to prompt the release of natural chemicals known to reduce pain, inflammation, and muscle tension. In addition, they point to a reduction in the activity of certain jaw muscles in the days following an acupuncture treatment.
Studies that specifically look at bruxism may be limited. However, numerous studies examine acupuncture's impact on stress, which seems to be a driving factor in repetitive teeth grinding.
Stress can negatively impact pain, inflammation, the immune system, and mood. Acupuncture is known to affect all these areas. In fact, the journal Medical Acupuncture reports that neuroimaging and other studies have confirmed acupuncture can influence both the autonomic and the central nervous systems.
As an example, the journal references a study of heart rate variability. A variable heart rate is an indicator of good health. Studies link acupuncture treatment with improved heart rate variability over both short and long terms, indicating a decrease in psychological stress. This could be good news for bruxism patients.
How Stress Connects Acupuncture and Bruxism
In bruxism, patients engage in grinding and clenching due to the unconscious movements of their jaw muscles. People who struggle with bruxism while they're awake often notice that they’re more likely to clench their jaws when they’re stressed. In contrast sleep bruxism is more likely to involve involuntary teeth grinding during sleep. In others, dental damage, jaw pain, headache, earache, or a temporomandibular joint disorder serves as a red flag that leads to the diagnosis.
Day or night, bruxism can be a painful and destructive problem. Experts believe a variety of factors can cause the condition, including bite or anatomical abnormalities, genetics, certain medications, and mood and sleep disorders. However, stress repeatedly tops the list of potential causes.
The relationship between stress and bruxism is often cited as a reason to try acupuncture. After all, decreasing stress levels can reduce teeth grinding episodes. Since acupuncture eases stress, encourages relaxation, and promotes healing, it may provide relief for people battling bruxism.
Acupuncturists can create patient care plans designed to reduce stress and anxiety. They can also target bruxism directly by needling relevant acupuncture points to reduce muscle tension in the jaw and neck muscles.
As an added bonus, acupuncture is strongly associated with better sleep. Some patients actually doze off on the treatment table. Since high-quality sleep is known to improve wellness and moods, this offers yet another way acupuncture may help bruxism sufferers.
A Brief History of Acupuncture
How can needles lower stress? That depends on who you ask.
Traditional Chinese medicine teaches acupuncture deals with qi — life force energy — and features in much of traditional Chinese medicine. Much like blood travels through veins and arteries, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners say qi travels throughout the body via pathways called meridians.
When blockages occur, qi becomes imbalanced and wellness suffers. Therefore, inserting needles into specific spots called acupuncture points can correct this issue. Clearing blockages restores balance to the body's systems and improves health.
Western medicine offers a different explanation. Medical experts believe the insertion of acupuncture needles signals the nervous system. These signals prompt the release of natural biochemicals which improve one’s mood, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and improve blood flow.
Experts may debate the details of how acupuncture works, but there's growing interest in its potential usefulness. Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that acupuncture can benefit a wide range of conditions, including the following:
- Chronic pain
- Dental pain
- Postoperative pain and nausea
- Repetitive motion disorders and other musculoskeletal issues
- Stroke recovery
- Irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues
- Headaches, migraines, and other neurological issues
- Asthma, allergies, and other respiratory issues
- Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Menstrual pain, infertility, and other reproductive issues
What to Expect From an Acupuncture Treatment
An acupuncture treatment appointment starts with a conversation. The acupuncturist will ask about your general health and the issues that brought you to their door. Then, you'll be asked to lay down on a padded table.
The acupuncturist will choose a few relevant acupuncture points to target, and they’ll clean the skin in those places to prepare for the treatment. Then, they'll place hair-thin needles in the selected points. A typical treatment involves between five and 20 single-use, disposable needles. While some people report feeling a small pinch when a needle is placed, the treatment is largely painless. However, if you feel pain, tell the acupuncturist right away.
The acupuncture needles are left in place for 20 minutes or so. While they wait, patients can read, listen to music or podcasts, or simply enjoy the stillness. Don't be surprised if you feel sleepy or relaxed after the needles are removed. On the flip side, some people feel energized. Both reactions are normal. The result depends on the individual and the acupuncture points used during the session.
Acupuncture is generally a very safe treatment. There are few risks or negative side effects to worry about when receiving treatment from a licensed acupuncturist who follows proper protocols. However, anyone with a bleeding disorder or pacemaker could be at an increased risk of complications and should tell the acupuncturist about their condition before starting treatment. Also, some acupuncture points can be used to stimulate labor. So, women who are pregnant or believe that they might be should alert their acupuncturist before beginning treatment.
Finding Your Acupuncturist
When searching for an acupuncturist who treats bruxism, select a licensed or certified professional. You can ask your health care providers, family, and friends for recommendations and check with trusted sources like the Better Business Bureau. Reading online reviews can also help you choose a provider. And, if your insurance covers acupuncture, you may be able to find an acupuncturist through your insurance’s website.
When you have a list of possibilities, call the acupuncturists' offices. Ask about their practices and their experience treating bruxism. In addition, review your health insurance plan. Again, some plans cover acupuncture and some don’t. If your insurance covers acupuncture, make sure you understand which specialists are in your network.
More Teeth Grinding and Jaw Clenching Treatment Options
If you’d like to explore other treatments to replace or work alongside acupuncture, we have you covered.
Mouthguards For Bruxism:
Any thoughtful discussion of bruxism treatments will probably mention using occlusal splints. Commonly referred to as mouthguards, these devices protect your smile and your teeth. The guard sits between your upper and lower teeth, preventing direct tooth contact and limiting the damaging effects of teeth grinding.
When you opt for a custom-fit mouthguard that is crafted from medical-grade material, the device is easy to use, comfortable to wear, and effective. Purchasing directly from your dentist can be expensive, but there are affordable options. Pro Teeth Guard is proud to offer high-quality night guards that deliver the same great quality your dentist provides at a fraction of the cost.
Homeopathic Treatments For Teeth Grinding:
These strategies for managing bruxism are also options. Like acupuncture, homeopathy works by prompting the body's own healing mechanisms to take action.
Many homeopathic treatments focus on reducing stress. These include meditation, massage, essential oils, and deep breathing. Exercise, especially relaxing practices like yoga and qigong, is also recommended. Other treatments include taking vitamins or herbal supplements to nourish the body and support its systems.
Relax and Keep Your Smile Strong
Acupuncture can be a useful tool for people struggling with bruxism. With its ability to reduce stress and promote relaxation and healing, it's easily combined with other bruxism treatments, including mouthguards.
At Pro Teeth Guard, we take the stress out of securing a mouthguard. Ordering is easy, and we stand behind our products with a 110% money-back guarantee. For an affordable price, you'll receive a comfortable, custom-fit mouthguard that was carefully crafted in a professional dental lab.