CBT and TMJ (Temporamandibular Joint Disorder) don't only go together because they're both three-letter acronyms; it seems that the former can also be highly effective in treating the latter and providing great TMJ treatment over the long term. But what precisely is CBT and how can it possibly help TMJ? Is it right for you? And what other forms of TMJ treatment can help you to get the most from this type of intervention?
What is CBT?
Let's start with the most obvious question: what is CBT?
CBT stands for 'Cognitive Behavioral Therapy' and is a form of 'psychotherapeutic intervention'. What this means is that it is a 'talking cure' along the same lines of psychotherapy which is usually used to treat phobias, addiction and other aspects of mental health.
CBT is different from psychotherapy however in its approach. While psychotherapy revolves around talking about childhood experiences, dreams and repressed feelings; CBT is more interested in identifying negative thoughts and behaviors that lead to bad health. For instance, someone with a phobia of spiders might find themselves thinking things like 'it's going to jump and bite me'. The focus of CBT would be getting them to change that unhealthy thought patter with something more useful like 'spiders are tiny and harmless'.
How CBT Works as TMJ Treatment
But if CBT is normally used to treat mental health issues, how then can it play a role in addressing TMJ?
The first thing to consider is that TMJ is sometimes psychogenic in nature. This means that it is closely connected to our psychology in the same way that irritable bowel syndrome is. Here stress actually causes the symptoms of TMJ and focusing on the problem then exacerbates it. In this scenario, CBT could then be used to help address the stress and thus prevent some of the symptoms – specifically offering TMJ pain relief.
Why is TMJ so closely related to stress? The simple answer is that we tend to clench our jaws unconsciously when stressed and even to grind our teeth in the night. If you're stressed often then your teeth will be clenched and you will be more likely to get jaw pain.
Another point to bear in mind is that pain in general is a psychological phenomenon in as much as it originates from signals in the brain. At the same time, pain requires attention and focus in order to exert its effects and if you can distract yourself from it then you don't feel it. As CBT can teach you to change your perception of pain it may offer some TMJ pain relief.
Can CBT Help You?
Now the question is how you actually go about using CBT and whether or not it can be an effective tool in your own particular case.
One thing to consider is whether you are suffering from post-traumatic TMJ or whether you have idiopathic TMJ. Posttraumatic TMJ is TMJ caused by some kind of physical injury – in other words it is TMJ caused by whiplash from a car accident or by a sporting injury. In this case the issue is not psychogenic and you would likely be better off with other forms of treatment such as the use of painkillers and supplements.
Likewise, CBT is most effective when combined with other approaches. The TMJ Pill for instance is a TMJ treatment that helps to provide anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant and analgesic effects while encouraging the body to repair the condition. By combining this supplementation with CBT you can thereby get immediate pain relief while at the same time preventing it from getting worse. Other forms of treatment such as gentle exercises and massage may also prove effective, as may the use of a TMJ splint.
If you are interested in using CBT as well though, then speak with your doctor to get referred to a specialist and you might be surprised how much they can help.