Arthritis and TMJ Disorders
by Dr. Scott Bolding
Table of Contents
01. What is a TMJ Disorder?
02. What is Arthritis?
03. What Types of Arthritis Are Connected with TMJ Disorders?
04. How Can I tell if Arthritis is Causing My TMJ Pain?
05. How is TMJ Arthritis Treated?
What is the Relationship Between Arthritis and TMJ Disorders?
According to the CDC, approximately 58.5 million people have “doctor-diagnosed arthritis.” When most people think of arthritis, they think about knees, hips, and fingers. However, arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the jaw joint. In fact, arthritis is a common cause of TMJ disorders.
In this post, we will take a look at TMJ arthritis. We want to help you understand what a TMJ disorder is, how TMJ arthritis happens, and how we diagnose TMJ arthritis as well as how to treat it.
What is a TMJ Disorder?
Your temporomandibular joint (or TMJ) is the joint where your upper and lower jaw meet. It works as a hinge and allows your mouth to open and close. When this joint is damaged or not aligned properly, it’s known as a TMJ disorder.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a word often used to describe chronic joint pain. It affects people of different ages; however, it is most common in older adults. Arthritis usually involves inflammation or degeneration of a joint. This, in turn, leads to pain and stiffness.
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Arthritis typically affects your:
- Lower back
However, it can affect other joints, like the TMJ, as well. Basically, anywhere you have a joint, you can experience arthritis.
The Types of Arthritis That Cause TMJ Pain
The jaw joint is just like any other joint in your body. It has ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscle attachments. Arthritis affects the jaw joint the same way it affects your knees and hips. There are several different types of arthritis, but not all of them affect the TMJ. The most common types of arthritis that can cause TMJ disorders are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and psoriatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative form of arthritis that develops over time due to wear and tear. The most damage is typically done to the cartilage that cushions your joints. The damage done to the cartilage causes the bones in the joint to rub together. This leads to pain, inflammation of the joint, and stiffness.
Injury and overuse are the most common causes of this type of TMJ arthritis. As the jaw joint wears down over time, it can change the shape and function of your entire jaw. Osteoarthritis typically only affects one side of the jaw. However, because of the damage done to the affected joint, the joint on the other side will have to pick up the slack. This can lead to TMJ pain on the other side of your jaw as well.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA):
Rheumatoid arthritis is another common form of arthritis, which is caused by an autoimmune disease. With RA, the immune system attacks healthy tissue in your joints. It usually affects other joints in your body before it reaches your jaw joint.
Like osteoarthritis, RA typically affects the cartilage in your jaw joint. The damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis can lead to misalignment of the jaw. This misalignment causes the TMJ on both sides to work harder than normal, which leads to more wear and tear on the joints. Over time, your jaw joint can become severely damaged if the RA is not treated.
Unlike osteoarthritis, RA affects both sides of your jaw.
Psoriatic arthritis is another type of arthritis that is caused by an autoimmune disease. It is usually associated with the skin condition psoriasis; however, it can occur without other psoriasis symptoms. It can be mild in some patients but also cause serious damage if it’s not treated. For some people, the pain comes and goes; for others, it’s a constant symptom.
This form of TMJ arthritis affects the jaw joint like other joints. Psoriatic arthritis attacks the tendons and ligaments. This leads to pain, swelling, and stiffness in the jaw joint.
How We Diagnose TMJ Arthritis
The symptoms of TMJ arthritis are often the same as those of other types of TMJ disorders. Because of this, it can be hard to determine the cause of your jaw pain on your own. These symptoms include:
- Pain in the jaw joint
- Restricted movement in the jaw joint
- Creaking, popping, or clicking
Patients with TMJ disorders also experience frequent headaches and earaches.
For a lot of people, these symptoms are mild and will go away after a few days. However, if they last longer and won’t go away even with pain medication and other treatments, you may have a more serious issue, like TMJ arthritis. In this case, you will need a doctor to diagnose your TMJ disorder.
How is TMJ Arthritis Diagnosed?
Diagnosing TMJ arthritis requires taking an orthopedic approach. This means approaching the jaw joint like the knee or the hip. So, when determining whether or not arthritis is causing your TMJ disorder, every aspect of the jaw joint will need to be evaluated. This process involves a physical examination and X-Rays or MRIs.
You will also need to discuss your medical history. If you have dealt with arthritis for a while or have a history of arthritis in your family, it is highly likely that arthritis is the cause of your jaw pain.
Lab tests can also help determine your specific type of arthritis.
How is TMJ Arthritis Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for TMJ arthritis. So, the goal with TMJ arthritis is to prevent further deterioration, manage pain, and maintain jaw function. We try to use conservative treatments as much as possible. These conservative treatment options include the following:
- NSAIDS (such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
- Ice/heat therapy
- Soft food diet
- Physical therapy
There are also treatments that are specific to arthritis. Some creams and ointments have menthol, which can interfere with pain signals when rubbed on the joint. Corticosteroids can also reduce inflammation and pain. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs are also effective in slowing the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.
Understanding the Relationship Between Arthritis and TMJ Disorders
Although TMJ arthritis has no cure, you can still work to prevent things from getting worse. As with any medical condition, early treatment is the key to making sure it doesn’t develop into something more serious. If you treat your TMJ arthritis early, conservative methods are usually effective. In fact, studies have shown that when treated early, conservative methods reduce pain and other symptoms in more than 80% of patients.
If you have a history of arthritis and are starting to feel pain in your jaw joint, our TMJ specialists are here to help. We will work with you and your doctor to make sure you get the help you need.