By Danisha Bogue, L.Ac. - July 10, 2023
Categories: General

Have you ever woken up in the morning feeling like someone socked you in the jaw while you were sleeping? Or maybe you find yourself clenching your jaw during stressful work days, or getting headaches. These can all be symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (also known as TMJ, or TMJ Syndrome). Between 5-12% of the general adult population have some form of TMJ disorder, and it’s more common in women than men. But Western Medicine is limited in its treatment options – usually just recommending OTC painkillers and uncomfortable bite guards, without being able to treat the underlying causes outside of telling you not to stress out so much. 

Understanding TMJ from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

Because of the way that Traditional Chinese Medicine views the body as a series of interconnected systems, imbalances in one area can manifest as symptoms in another. TMJ is considered the result of disharmony between the body’s organ systems – primarily the Liver, Spleen, and Kidney. Imbalances in these systems can cause Qi stagnation, blood deficiency, and dampness accumulation, all of which can contribute to TMJ symptoms. 

The Liver’s Role

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Liver is responsible for ensuring the smooth flow of Qi throughout the body. Strong emotions like stress, anger, or frustration can disrupt the Liver’s function, leading to Qi stagnation. This stagnation can manifest as jaw clenching, grinding, and tension. Regulating the Liver Qi with acupuncture can help to alleviate these symptoms of TMJ. Increasing your intake of certain herbs like mints, basil, ginger, thyme, and turmeric can help to release tension and improve the flow of Qi as well. 

The Spleen’s Influence

The Spleen plays a crucial role in digestion and the transformation of food into nourishment for the body. Weak Spleen Qi can result in poor digestion, fluid accumulation, and dampness. Dampness tends to settle in the jaw joint, causing swelling, stiffness, and pain associated with TMJ. In addition to acupuncture, herbal medicine and dietary changes can help to strengthen your Spleen Qi, including: 

  • Red Ginseng
  • Astragalus
  • Licorice
  • Chinese Yam
  • Yellow foods – pumpkins, squash, yams, yellow lentils, corn, pineapple, and yellow peppers

The Kidney’s Connection

The Kidneys, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, govern the bone structure and the health of the teeth and jaw. Deficiencies in Kidney Qi can weaken the bone structure around the temporomandibular joint, leading to instability and pain. Acupuncture, herbal therapy, and lifestyle recommendations can help to nourish your Kidney Qi, addressing the root cause of TMJ. Foods like kidney beans, mushrooms, sesame seeds, celery, barley, and seaweed can also help to strengthen your Kidney Qi. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatments for TMJ


Acupuncture is particularly effective at helping to improve the flow of Qi and blood throughout the body, as well as helping to treat pain, inflammation, and tension in your jaw. 

Herbal Medicine

As mentioned above, Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal formulas tailored to your specific patterns of disharmony can help to address the underlying imbalances contributing to TMJ. It’s important to talk to your practitioner before starting any herbal regiment to ensure that you’re taking the right herb in the right dose and combination, and that they won’t interact with any medication you are already taking. 

Dietary Modifications

Dietary changes can also help to support the Spleen, reduce inflammation, and promote overall balance. This may involve avoiding cold or dampening foods (like milk productions, sugar, and refined grains), and incorporating warm, nourishing foods (link onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, oranges, and red meat).

Lifestyle Adjustments

Stress reduction techniques like meditation and gentle exercise like walking can be beneficial in managing TMJ symptoms. Additionally, it’s important to get enough rest and sleep to support the body’s healing process. For more tips on dealing with stress, check out this blog post. 

While Western Medicine tends to focus on managing the issues that come from TMJ, Traditional Chinese Medicine focuses on addressing the underlying imbalances in the body’s organ systems to treat the condition itself. By regulating Qi flow, strengthening the Spleen, and nourishing the Kidneys, Traditional Chinese Medicine aims to alleviate TMJ symptoms and promote overall-wellbeing. 

Be well.



This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or illness. Please consult your healthcare provider prior to the use of this product if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medications or have a medical condition. Individual results may vary.