If you're experiencing discomfort in or around the joints of your jaw, you may have a condition known as TMJ arthralgia. It may comfort you to know that you're not alone; about 25% of adults in the United States have some form of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We're here to help you understand how TMJ arthralgia affects your life and the treatment options at your disposal.
TMJ Arthralgia Symptoms and Treatment Options
TMJ arthralgia refers to joint pain from arthritis of your temporomandibular joint (also known as your TMJ). This type of temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is unique because it’s caused by arthritis (the joints' swelling or inflammation).
Your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) controls the movement of your jaw, including for chewing, speaking, and swallowing. Arthritis in this part of your body can affect your ability to perform these important tasks and cause pain or discomfort.
Between 5 and 12 percent of people suffer from TMJ disorders, according to the National Institute of Health. Younger people and women are more likely to be diagnosed than older people and men.
Risk factors for TMJ arthralgia include:
- Age and gender
- Inherited genetics and family history of arthritis
- Hormonal conditions or medication affecting female hormones
- Previous joint damage from injury
Three main types of arthritis typically affect your TMJ:
- Osteoarthritis: Overuse or “wear-and-tear” of your joints can cause damage to the cartilage in your joints where your bones contact. This can lead to bone grinding directly on bone, affecting the entire joint and surrounding tissue's functioning.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: In this autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks tissue in your joint, causing inflammation, swelling, or damage.
- Psoriatic arthritis: This type affects some who struggle with psoriasis, a chronic skin condition.
The diagnosis of TMJ disorders can be challenging as there is no unifying definition. Your dental or medical professional uses their judgment to weigh various symptoms, including your pain, difficulty chewing, and joint function, to determine your diagnosis.
Arthralgia of the TMJ is unique because the pain is sourced from the joint or tissue surrounding it. Diagnosis may require that you experience pain in the joint with your mouth closed while opening it fully or moving it from side to side.
Symptoms of TMJ arthralgia may include:
- Pain in your TMJ, face, ears, or surrounding areas
- Discomfort or pain when chewing or speaking.
- Stiffness when moving your jaw muscles, or a locking jaw
- Clicking or popping noises when moving your jaw
Important note: If you have TMJ arthralgia symptoms, it’s best to take a deep breath and not jump to conclusions. There are many causes of TMJ pain and related symptoms, so it’s best to talk to your dental or medical professional for expert diagnosis and recommendation.
It can be stressful to deal with symptoms of TMJ arthralgia. Fortunately, there are numerous steps you can take to reduce the severity of your symptoms and treat the condition. Your best bet to reduce your symptoms is to practice healthy habits and avoid further aggravation of the joint in the first place.
- Avoid overly hard, crunchy, or difficult-to-chew foods.
- Apply a cold compress or icepack the affected area for 20 minutes, three times a day
- Use over-the-counter medications as directed on the packaging.
- Don’t overwork your jaw with strenuous activity like yelling or loud singing.
- Skip grinding your teeth, or wear a mouthguard at night to reduce its effects
- Medications, including both over-the-counter and prescription options as recommended by your dental or medical professional
- Supportive splits to reduce strain
- Physical therapy or an exercise regimen for your jaw muscles
- Radio wave therapy to improve blood flow
- Trigger-point injections, where medication is injected into affected muscles
- Ultrasound treatment using heat to improve joint mobility
- Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) to relax the joint or muscle
There are procedures available to help with TMJ pain, but your dental or medical professional with generally avoid recommending these until the less invasive options have proven ineffective. Surgery is generally considered a last resort, as there has not been adequate research to support its safety and effectiveness.
Arthritis in your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can be a challenge to deal with because it affects daily activities like talking and eating. Rest assured that professionals are equipped to help alleviate your symptoms with behavioral changes and therapy (they only rarely recommend surgery!). You’ve made a great choice to educate yourself on the ins and outs of TMJ arthralgia.
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.