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Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For TMD Work?

Temporomandibular disorders (TMD, also known as TMJ) affect the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. This joint offers a full range of motion for daily activities including chewing or talking. There are multiple causes of TMD, which can include grinding or clenching the teeth, dislocation of the jaw, or even arthritis. For those who suffer from severe cases, it can lead to TMJ migraines and ear pain. Researchers are now suggesting that cognitive behavioral therapy for TMD could help pain sufferers.

How to treat TMD

The American Pain Society suggest several treatments for TMD. Patients were often prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs to treat this pain. However, a study by the University Of Connecticut Health Center suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also be effective in treating TMD.

The researchers discovered that many patients whose TMD was non-responsive to traditional treatments also suffered from symptoms of depression. These patients did not possess typical coping methods and, in spite of not presenting a joint pathology indicative of TMD, they still experienced the pain in their face.

The authors hypothesized that certain CBT treatment-related outcomes might be predictive of treatment non-response. These include:

  • Lower retention in treatment
  • Less adaptive changes in coping and self efficacy
  • Pain catastrophizing

Cognitive behavioral therapy treatments focus on the patients’ thoughts and feelings about certain situations in their lives. Then, it teaches them effective coping mechanisms for moving forward. The idea is to change negative behaviors that result from negative feelings into positive behaviors. Patients do this by actively changing the patient’s thought patterns.

Nonresponsive TMD patients may have success alleviating and eliminating their painful condition by engaging in behaviors that change the way they think about the pain they are experiencing. If the researchers’ findings are correct, this could change how healthcare professionals handle a number of similar conditions.

Do you think that some forms of TMD can be caused by depression and treated with cognitive behavioral therapy?