Ahh . . . chocolate. Is there anything it can’t do? We have long known about many health benefits of chocolate, and now it seems we have to add curing TMJ to that list. According to recent research, the anti-inflammatory properties of chocolate might be useful in controlling TMJ.

Simulating and Treating TMJ in Rats

In this study, TMJ was simulated in rats using a fairly standard experimental method. Complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA) was injected into the temporomandibular joints of the rats. This blend, which includes oil, water, and dead bacteria, stimulates an immune response, including swelling and pain. Rats were then fed either a control diet or a diet that had the same number of calories but included 10% cocoa powder by weight.

Compared to the animals on the control diet, animals on the cocoa-rich diet had a lower expression of many genes and proteins that are related to pain sensations and sensitization of the spinal trigeminal nucleus. It also reduced the amount of swelling in the temporomandibular joint. The cocoa diet was so effective that rats on this diet had levels of these proteins comparable to rats who had not received any joint injections.

How Much Chocolate Would You Have to Eat?

Assuming you eat about 5 pounds of food a day (an estimate based on this 2000 survey of how much food Americans ate by weight on an annual basis), you would have to eat about a half pound of cocoa powder a day, or an entire container of natural, unsweetened cocoa every day. Some very rich brownies we recently made had about half a container in them, and I guarantee you could not eat an entire pan of them, let alone two. You might be able to add cocoa powder to many dishes, but this is still a very large amount of chocolate.

If you would rather have your chocolate in bar form, you would have to eat even more. If you are eating a 70% cocoa chocolate bar, like Lindt’s, you would have to eat about three and a quarter bars a day. A Hershey’s bar contains about 11% cocoa, so you would have to eat about 10 giant bars a day.

Maintaining this kind of chocolate intake without increasing your calorie content would be hard to achieve, to say the least, but perhaps the next time you have jaw pain you can tear into a chocolate bar and know that the relief may be more than just the endorphins from the delicious flavor.