Ask a TMJ Specialist: How Rheumatoid Arthritis can Affect your Jaw

Ask a TMJ Specialist: How Rheumatoid Arthritis can Affect your Jaw

There are a variety of things that can affect your joints. Sometimes, its repetitive motion is enough to cause a strain. Other times, it is something like blunt trauma. There is also disease or chronic conditions. Every possible factor ranges in severity, and often times can be manageable with physical therapy or surgical treatment from a TMJ specialist. In the case of Rheumatoid arthritis, it gets a little hairy. So, we are going to talk about how Rheumatoid arthritis works, and how it affects your TMJs specifically. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis 

Web MD defines rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as, ” a type of arthritis that happens when your body’s defenses, your immune system, targets your joint linings.” The most interesting attribute of rheumatoid arthritis is that it affects both sides of the body.  To put that in perspective, RA will affect both wrists, both knees or in the case of this topic both TMJs. So, if you have any sort of pain in just one of them, chances are RA is not the cause of it. Another interesting thing to note is that women are three times likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than men. But just what is it specifically?

Rheumatoid arthritis falls under the classification of an autoimmune disease, which makes a lot of sense given the definition. It is the most common of autoimmune diseases that affect over 1.3 million Americans. Most people who have ever heard of it are often terrified of the possibility of having it. This is because, when unchecked, RA can cause massive damage.  According to the Arthritis Society, “If the inflammation goes unchecked, it can damage cartilage, the elastic tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint, as well as the bones themselves. Over time, there is loss of cartilage, and the joint spacing between bones can become smaller. Joints can become loose, unstable, painful and lose their mobility. Joint deformity also can occur.”

There are keywords at the beginning of that statement, “If the inflammation goes unchecked.” 

Early intervention or discovery of the condition will keep you and your doctors aware of what state you are in and how you want to handle your situation. Usually, the earlier that you realize that something is wrong, the more likely you are able to do something to prevent it from getting worse. 

TMJ and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Late in the Disease

Rheumatoid arthritis in the TMJ can be detected and treated by dental surgeons and TMJ specialists. Thankfully, we have x rays and radiologists to find if anything is out of place. This is because when the RA reaches to the TMJ, you are hardly in the early stages of the disease.

Usually, when they realize that RA is the culprit behind a case of TMJ, there are several things that they can do. 

  • Your dentist may prescribe medication.
    • Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers can help alleviate inflammation and pain.
    • Muscle relaxants may help relieve any pain that is associated with a clenched jaw.  
    • Tricyclic antidepressants, which are historically used for depression, have been found to also have some effect against chronic pain.
  • They may prescribe mouth guards or oral splints to reduce jaw pain and help with jaw alignment.
  • Physical therapy may also be an option.

 There are a number of surgical procedures that TMJ specialists might find be helpful which include

  •  injecting small amounts of fluid to keep your jaw functional
  •  open jaw surgery

Early in the Disease

But is there a case of this happening in the early stages of RA? Surprisingly, yes.

A recent case study in 2015 of a 22-year-old female has demonstrable evidence of TMJ showing up in the early stages of arthritis.  She stated that she was diagnosed with the disease six months prior to the dental visit. This created an obstacle for the TMJ specialists that need to see the extent of the damage that the early stages of RA had done to the TMJs. Thankfully, they were able to utilize a type of crosssection imaging to see the extension of the damage that was done to the jaw. From there, they got her the help they could offer.

If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is. 


While the treatments that I listed above will help at least increase your chances of mobility or decrease the pain you are experiencing, the cold truth of the matter is that there is no cure for RA. We have yet to discover it if even such a thing exists. But with TMJ specialists working their hardest, they are at least decreasing the chances of it getting to a point where it is unmanageable. 

Are you In the Reseda, California area, and are looking for a TMJ Specialist? Feel free to call us or visit

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