Most of us love a good taste of chocolate, and its curative properties have been promoted in many contexts. From antioxidants to antidepressants, chocolate has been found to compare favorably to many drug treatments, and a recent study even suggests it may be a drug-free alternative treatment for TMJ.
Simulating and Treating TMJ in Rats
Rats are commonly used to study certain effects of TMJ and potential TMJ treatments. To simulate TMJ a compound known as complete Freund’s adjuvant (abbreviated CFA) is injected into the rats’ temporomandibular joints. This is a combination of oil, water, and dead bacteria that causes a painful swelling of the jaw joint.
In this study, rats who had been injected were fed one of two diets: a normal diet or one that had the same number of calories but was made up of 10% cocoa powder by weight.
The rats fed the chocolate diet saw a number of positive effects. Genes and proteins associated with irritation and sensitization of the spinal trigeminal nucleus were reduced. The trigeminal nucleus is where signals from the trigeminal, facial, glossopharyngeal, and vagus nerves come together in the brain. It is implicated in the perpetuation of chronic pain associated with TMJ. Rats eating the chocolate diet also had less swelling in the jaw joints. In some cases, rats on the chocolate diet had suppressed the effects of the injection to the point that they were comparable to rats who hadn’t received injections.
How Much Chocolate Would You Have to Eat?
A chocolate cure for TMJ sounds, pretty good, huh? That is, until you start to figure out how much chocolate you’d have to eat.
Based on this 2000 survey of how much food Americans ate by weight on an annual basis, the average American eats about five pounds of food a day, so making your diet 10% cocoa powder by weight would mean eating a half pound of cocoa powder a day. In other words, you’d have to eat a container of natural, unsweetened cocoa every day. We recently made some very rich brownies that had about half a container of cocoa in each pan. Frankly, I couldn’t eat two brownies, let alone two pans of them! So . . . maybe you could add cocoa to chilis and soups and other dishes, but we’re still talking about a lot of cocoa.
It might be easier to just stick to eating your chocolate in bar form. If you ate a 70% cocoa chocolate bar, like Lindt’s, you would have to eat would you would have to eat 11 ounces of chocolate a day, about three and a quarter bars. If you ate a less rich kind of chocolate, say a Hershey’s bar, you would have to eat a lot more. The typical milk chocolate contains about 11% cocoa, which means you would have to eat 72 ounces–four and a half pounds–of chocolate bars, about 10 of the giant bars.
The tricky part is trying to get this much chocolate in your diet without adding any additional calories!
Perhaps someday we will have a concentrated extract that will allow us to benefit from chocolate, but for now it doesn’t seem to be a viable alternative treatment. Still, next time you suffer from jaw pain, you can try having some chocolate, and enjoy the pain-relieving effects of the endorphins released in your brain as well as the anti-inflammatory effects.
And if you’re looking for an effective, drug-free treatment for your TMJ, we can help. Please call (803) 781-9090 to talk to a TMJ dentist in Columbia, SC.