Jaw Pain and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Last updated: March 2022
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) encompassing the jaw is one of the most complex and misunderstood joints in the body.1 There are multiple muscles, bones and soft tissues involved in motions that occur in all directions.
The jaw gets used for many purposes all day long – biting, chewing, swallowing, speaking, showing emotions, yawning, etc. Some people grind their teeth at night, called bruxism, putting more stress on the jaw and teeth.2 The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research provides relevant patient information on the TMJ and associated disorders at their comprehensive website.
TMJ and jaw pain
The problems associated with the TMJ are called temporomandibular disorders (TMD). Symptoms include radiating pain, jaw stiffness, joint locking, and changes in the way teeth fit together.3 TMD can arise from muscle issues called myofascial pain, misalignment of the joint, arthritis of the joint, trauma, or a combination of the above.
What is the cause of TMD?
While many people believe that clicking of the TMJ is a cause, there is no scientific evidence that clicking alone causes disorders. For reasons unknown and like RA, issues with the TMJ are more common with women.4 While no definitive connection has been made, the trigeminal nerve serving much of the head passes very near the joint and may be involved in symptoms.5
Who experiences TMD symptoms?
A large proportion of people with TMD symptoms also display indications of other medical conditions including chronic headaches/migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and ear ringing.6
How is jaw pain and RA connected?
Many rheumatoid arthritis patients display TMD. One study showed that upwards of 90% of RA patients showed TMD symptoms.7 The jaw joint can be impacted by rheumatoid arthritis much like it impacts other joints in the body with inflammation, bone erosion, and tissue damage.8 Joint damage in the hands of RA patients was seen as a strong predictor of TMD severity.
Other studies show that bone loss in the jaw was related to disease duration and inflammatory blood marker levels.9 Even juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) patients show TMD problems.10
How to treat jaw pain
Unfortunately, there is no officially accepted medical specialty or accepted standards of care for TMD. According the non-profit TMJ Association, treatments may include eating soft foods, ice and heat packs, pain medications, exercises, relaxation, side sleeping, avoiding chewing gum, dental splints, and limited cortisone injections. They highly recommend avoiding treatments that cause permanent changes in the jaw or bite. Surgery is not recommended because of lack of scientific evidence.11
When I feel fatigued, I rest as much as I can:
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