Arthritis can affect any of your joints, and the TMJ is no exception. According to the National Institutes of Health, 27 million people live with osteoarthritis, which causes the deterioration of cartilage in joints. The Merck Manual suggests that arthritis can affect the TMJ because the cartilage is not as strong, but it mostly occurs when the disc is missing or deformed. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes pain and inflammation in many joints, and the Merck Manual says that 17 percent of people with RA have their TMJ affected as a secondary condition.
Treatment for osteoarthritis of the TMJ involves resting the jaw, analgesics for pain and possibly a splint to relieve muscle tightness. Symptoms may subside, but your ability to open your mouth might be limited. When RA affects your TMJ, you may be treated with the same RA drugs used for any joint, along with NSAIDs for pain. Keeping the TMJ mobile is important; therefore, your doctor may recommend physical therapy and a splint to relieve muscle tightness. In rare cases, surgery may be needed to replace the joint.
Temporomandibular joint anatomy is intricate, and problems can arise. If you ever have jaw pain or trouble opening your mouth, see your dentist right away. If your dental office doesn't handle TMJ issues, you will be referred to a practice that does. Don't despair! Many TMJ disorders are temporary and simple treatments will have you chewing and talking normally in no time.