Arthritis is a condition that only affects old people, right? Wrong. Although it’s true that most people experience arthritis as part of aging, it’s also true that a significant number of people develop arthritis when they are quite young, perhaps even children. And when people develop arthritis, the temporomandibular joints (jaw joints) are often affected. This can be either a contributing cause or an effect of temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ/TMD).
Here are some of the types of arthritis most likely to impact young people and how they interact with TMJ.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
By definition, arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects a joint. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is when this inflammation occurs in young people for no discernible reason. There are many different types of JIA, including some that seem related to others on this list, but when arthritis spontaneously impacts a child or teenager,it is usually designated JIA first, then categorized according to the presence of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or other types. This type of arthritis often affects the temporomandibular joint.
This form of arthritis is poorly understood. It varies widely from person to person. Some people develop it after a stomach infection. Most people who get it have a certain genetic marker. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) usually attacks the spine. It makes spine movement painful, but can affect other joints. Sometimes it affects the temporomandibular joint. This can lead to jaw stiffness and pain. The first diagnosed case of AS affected the jaw joint. Since then, though, research shows AS rarely attacks the jaw joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks joints. This type of arthritis is usually detected late in life, but significant numbers of children and teens can develop the condition. Risks increase if you have serious gum disease.
About one in six people with rheumatoid arthritis develop temporomandibular joint problems, though that is rarely the first joint affected.
Psoriasis is also an autoimmune disorder, one which normally impacts the skin. It creates patches of red, flaky skin. Perhaps a third of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis. This is characterized by pain and stiffness in the joints, although these may not be swollen at first. This is normally diagnosed in later years, but can be found in children and teens. This type of arthritis rarely attacks the jaw joint. Most often, it affects the joints of your fingers and toes.
Traumatic arthritis occurs when damage to the jaw joint can lead to swelling, pain, and limited movement of the joint. This can occur to people of any age. Although children are more likely to be active in situations where jaw joint injury can happen, they are also more resilient against jaw trauma. Obviously, this type of arthritis can affect the temporomandibular joint as a result of jaw trauma, including whiplash.
AKA infectious arthritis, this type of arthritis occurs when an infection of some type (bacterial, fungal, viral) attacks the joint. Infections can spread from nearby areas or may be the result of bloodborne infection. The area becomes badly inflamed, may be warm to the touch, is painful, and motion is limited. You may also have a fever. This type of arthritis requires rapid action to prevent additional damage and potentially deadly secondary infections. If you suspect this type of arthritis, contact a doctor right away.
Infections that lead to septic arthritis in the temporomandibular joint can include infected teeth and ear infections.
Secondary Degenerative Arthritis
This type of arthritis usually occurs in relation to TMD. Most TMD is related to muscle tension, which can put significant additional strain on the jaw joint, leading to damage and inflammation. This type of arthritis might not be painful at first, and the jaw may move freely. The onset of jaw popping and clicking is an early sign that TMD is damaging the joint.
Is Arthritis Causing Your Jaw Joint Problems?
If you are experiencing jaw joint problems, it’s best not to wait to get treatment. Arthritis can be a progressive condition, and the longer you wait for treatment, the worse it becomes. We have the tools to look precisely at the different aspects of the joint and can help you determine what is behind your symptoms so you can get effective TMJ treatment.