Is There a Role for Massage in Treating TMJ Disorders (TMDs)?

Despite all the chatter these days about banning TikTok, the video platform remains as popular as ever. And let’s face it: While there’s no shortage of junk content on TikTok, there’s a lot of entertaining stuff, too.

And, of course, influencers galore. So. Many. Influencers.

One thing that’s been trending lately in certain circles is a thing called buccal massage. It’s a gentle massage that’s done on the inside of your mouth and said to be popular with celebs such as J. Lo, Meghan Markle, and Kristen Bell. Why? It’s seen as a kind of nonsurgical facelift.

“By releasing the tension of the biting muscles, which pull the face inwards and downwards, you offer the face an instant lift,” says [therapist Lynn] Rae, which explains why buccal massage is said to be a favourite of red-carpet regulars. “One session is not going to take away wrinkles and lines, but it can soften them. It can also keep people from having Botox and fillers.

The treatment’s name is related to the thin cheek muscles known as buccinators. You have one on each side of your face, toward the front of your mouth. One of their main functions is to keep you from biting your cheeks while you’re chewing. They’re also the muscles that help you whistle or play a wind instrument or drink from a straw.

There are some dentists who recommend buccal massage for patients with TMJ disorders and related pain. And media coverage like this recent piece in Fortune includes stories of TMJ patients who say that it has brought some relief.

But any effectiveness depends on the knowledge and skill of the practitioner. While some providers say they massage specific muscles affected by TMJ disorders (TMDs), a buccal massage can easily wind up focused more on just the buccinators and the nearby parotid glands (the two largest salivary glands, one on each side of your mouth, in front of the ears).

But those aren’t structures that are typically involved in TMDs.

diagram of masseter muscleThe masseters are the main muscles of concern. These are large, strong muscles that help you chew and bite with force. They also help stabilize tension in the fibrous membrane that surrounds each TM joint and attaches to its various parts. Massaging these muscles in particular can be extremely helpful in relieving TMJ-related face pain, and it’s a common part of Dr. Abdulla’s holistic approach to treating TMDs successfully here in our Laguna Hills office.

It’s also something that patients can easily do a variation of at home themselves for relief between appointments:

  1. With your jaw relaxed, place two or three fingers on the muscles just below your cheekbones. Press into the muscles and hold that pressure for 6 to 10 seconds. (If you clench your teeth, you may feel the muscles tighten a bit under your touch.)
  2. Keep your jaw relaxed and repeat the application of pressure in other tender or tight areas of your cheeks. Do this in four or five different areas of your cheeks.

This can also be done with the temporalis muscles, which sit just below your temples. (Don’t apply pressure directly on your temples themselves, though.)

Dr. Abdulla also recommends massage of the cervical muscles at the top of the spine. These, too, can carry a lot of TMJ-related tension. Loosening can help the jaw hang more comfortably. Cervical massage is another that’s easy to perform on yourself at home:

  1. Sit at a desk or table. With your jaw relaxed, gently lean and rest your forehead on one of your hands.
  2. Use the fingertips of your free hand to gently massage the muscles at the top of your neck, just under the edge of your skull. Keep your fingertips in place as you massage. Don’t slide them along your hair or skin. Continue the massage for one minute.

So yes, there’s definitely a place for massage in the treatment of TMJ disorders. But for best results, it pays to make sure that it’s being done by a professional who understands TMDs and knows what they’re doing.

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