Studies in acupuncture compare correct needling at a point with what is called sham acupuncture. This is when the practitioner places the needle in a random spot (not an acupuncture point) and not to a depth to connect with the patient’s Qi. Acupuncture treatments are also compared to “standard of care”; this is referring to the treatment a patient with this diagnosis or condition will normally receive at their Western medical doctor’s office. In TMJ and TMD studies, acupuncture is often compared to occlusal splints. A mouthguard is placed on one layer of teeth to protect the teeth and gums while one grinds and clenches. An occlusal splint is similar, but can be for both sets of teeth and to prevent one from moving their jaw completely.
In a systemic review, 4 randomized clinical trials found acupuncture to be just as effective in reducing pain associated with TMJ as occlusal splints and significantly higher results than the placebo/sham acupuncture. In a randomized clinical trial, researches compared laser therapy on painful areas in the muscle as well as the joint itself, 3 specific acupuncture points, versus random places. The laser acupuncture as well as the muscular lasers significantly reduced pain (except in 1 particular muscle) as well as increased range of motion laterally and with the protrusive movement. The study deduced the acupuncture was a better treatment as it allowed for less time in the treatment room.
Fernandes, A. C., Duarte Moura, D. M., Da Silva, L., De Almeida, E. O., & Barbosa, G. (2017). Acupuncture in Temporomandibular Disorder Myofascial Pain Treatment: A Systematic Review. Journal of oral & facial pain and headache, 31(3), 225–232. https://doi.org/10.11607/ofph.1719
Madani, A., Ahrari, F., Fallahrastegar, A., & Daghestani, N. (2020). A randomized clinical trial comparing the efficacy of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) and laser acupuncture therapy (LAT) in patients with temporomandibular disorders. Lasers in medical science, 35(1), 181–192. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10103-019-02837-x
Zotelli, V. L., Grillo, C. M., Gil, M. L., Wada, R. S., Sato, J. E., & da Luz Rosário de Sousa, M. (2017). Acupuncture Effect on Pain, Mouth Opening Limitation and on the Energy Meridians in Patients with Temporomandibular Dysfunction: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of acupuncture and meridian studies, 10(5), 351–359. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jams.2017.08.005