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What is the Connection Between TMJ and Arthritis?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The connection between temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJ) and arthritis revolves around the fact that arthritis is one of the possible causes of the disorder. TMJ refers to problems affecting the temporomandibular joint, a joint connecting the skull to the lower jawbone. These joints are found right in front of the ears and are used when chewing, talking, and swallowing. Actually suffering from arthritis in the jaw may be mistaken for TMJ. TMJ and arthritis may also occur simultaneously in some individuals.

Arthritis of the TMJ is a degenerative disease in which affected joints become inflamed, less mobile, and painful. Every joint within the body, including the temporomandibular joint, can develop arthritis. In fact, different types of arthritis can be responsible for TMJ. One of the more likely arthritic causes of TMJ is osteoarthritis, a kind of arthritis more commonly seen in older individuals and associated with wear and tear. As the disease progresses, cartilage is destroyed, joint mobility is limited, and bite changes occur.

Rheumatoid arthritis, either associated with lupus or occurring on its own, is also a cause of TMJ and arthritis. When rheumatoid arthritis begins to affect the jaw, it has usually already affected all other joints in the body. The condition can cause the teeth to become misaligned and in severe cases cause the jawbone to fuse together, making it extremely difficult to open the mouth or eat. Although rare, traumatic arthritis is another possible cause of TMJ. The condition may result from pulling impacted teeth or some other blunt force trauma involving the jaw.

Symptoms of TMJ and arthritis may be difficult to differentiate from general TMJ symptoms. If arthritis is the cause, however, swelling and tenderness may be present and pain in front of the ear may possibly be noticed. The pain is also usually worsened upon clenching, chewing, or performing any other activity that requires jaw movement. Jaw clicking often described as a grinding, grating, or popping sound may be heard when moving the jaw and may indicate that the joints are being affected.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers are generally used to treat TMJ and arthritis. A splint can also be used to protect the muscle from overuse and provide pain relief. Heat therapy and a soft diet are also useful for soothing the pain and reducing discomfort caused by repetitive chewing and jaw movements. Education may also play a large part in successfully treating TMJ and arthritis, helping suffers understand what actions can cause further pain. Knowledge of TMJ-related physical therapy techniques, for instance, could be able to help patients relieve headaches caused by the condition and strengthen the jaw muscles.

Depending on the type of arthritis affecting the jaw, a more aggressive treatment course may be required. Infectious arthritis, a type that may be caused by a bacteria or virus that spreads from some other part of the body, is an example of a type of arthritis where aggressive treatment is usually needed. To prevent permanent jaw damage, an antibiotic may be prescribed once the condition is suspected. Often the arthritis treatment is begun before laboratory results confirming the condition or the type of infection occurring have been received.

Ultimately, proper diagnosis and treatment for TMJ and arthritis will likely rely on seeking out assistance from medical experts specializing in facial pain. A patient’s medical history, X-rays, and computed tomography scans are often used to get an accurate diagnosis. If pain persists or gets worse with conservative treatment options, surgery may be recommended to correct the structural disorders and joint abnormalities caused by arthritis.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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