About 24% of American adults have arthritis, making it the most common chronic pain condition in the country. It causes joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness — and while arthritis often affects large joints like your knees and hips, it can develop almost anywhere.
One joint that’s often overlooked is the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). You have two TMJ joints, and they connect your lower jaw to your skull. TMJ arthritis can make it painful to open your mouth and chew, but treatment can make a big difference.
Walied Touni, DDS, MSD, and our team at Touni Orthodontics in Sunnyvale, California, specialize in diagnosing and treating painful TMJ disorders, and we’re here to help you. Read on to learn more about the links between arthritis and TMJ and how you can find relief.
Arthritis is a broad term that describes joint inflammation. There are over 100 kinds of arthritis, and the two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis develops when the protective cartilage that covers the ends of your bones wears down over time, resulting in joint pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion.
Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system mistakenly attacks the tissue lining your joints and causes inflammation and joint damage.
How arthritis and TMJ disorders are linked
Your TMJ joints connect your lower jawbone (mandible) to your skull, enabling essential functions like chewing, talking, and yawning. Each joint is surrounded by cartilage and cushioned by a small disc that makes movement smooth. However, like other joints in your body, your TMJs can be affected by arthritis.
Osteoarthritis can develop in your TMJ due to natural wear-and-tear over the years or as a result of an injury. The cartilage in your joint gradually breaks down, leading to pain, tenderness, swelling, and difficulty opening or closing your mouth fully.
TMJ osteoarthritis is often accompanied by audible clicking or popping sounds. You may also feel a sensation of your jaw getting stuck or locked in position.
TMJ rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect your TMJs. In this case, your immune system attacks and destroys the synovial tissue lining your jaw. Common symptoms are pain, swelling, and limited jaw movement. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause more systemic symptoms, like fatigue.
TMJ arthritis treatment options
If you think you might have TMJ arthritis, schedule a consultation with Dr. Touni and our team. We review your medical history and do a thorough oral exam to diagnose your symptoms and develop a treatment plan.
In mild cases of TMJ arthritis, we may start by recommending conservative treatments. Applying heat or cold packs to your jaw, performing gentle jaw exercises, and taking over-the-counter pain medications can provide temporary relief.
Mouth guards are another effective treatment option for TMJ pain. A custom mouth guard or oral splint can help alleviate TMJ pain by stabilizing your jaw and relieving pressure on your joint.
Dr. Touni may also prescribe TMJ-specific physical therapy techniques. Your therapist guides you through stretches, exercises, and manual therapy to help restore proper TMJ movement and alleviate your symptoms.
In more severe cases, prescription medications or surgical intervention may be necessary. Prescription pain relievers or arthritis drugs can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Surgery for TMJ arthritis aims to repair or replace damaged joint components to improve your jaw function and reduce pain.
Whether it’s osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, the impact on your TMJ — and your quality of life — can be significant. Find compassionate care and personalized treatment at Touni Orthodontics. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Touni and our team by calling our office or requesting an appointment online today.