Arthritis is sometimes a factor in the jaw pain associated with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), a common condition that can also lead to migraine-like headaches, soreness in the neck and shoulders, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Current and forthcoming research aims to provide a better understanding of the relationship between certain types of arthritis and TMJ. The research may also inform future treatments for arthritis-related TMJ pain.

young woman massaging her neck due to Arthritis

Arthritis as a Factor in TMJ

TMJ and the discomfort that comes with it may be caused by a number of circumstances, including a misaligned jaw, bite condition, injury or genetic predisposition. Some forms of arthritis also contribute to the onset of TMJ.

Arthritis can damage the cartilage of the temporomandibular joints; these are the joints that help connect the jaw to the skull, and support the jaw’s range of motion. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis in particular have been linked to an increased risk for TMJ.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and it is a degenerative disease in which the cartilage at the ends of the bones progressively erodes. Rheumatoid arthritis is autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue, including the joints; over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint deformity and bone damage.

TMJ, Arthritis, and Bone Changes

A recent study conducted at Taiwan’s Chang Gung University assessed bone changes in elderly patients suffering from osteoarthritis and TMJ. Researchers found significant changes in the bony structures connected to the temporomandibular joints.

Nearly 70 percent of the 15 patients in the study developed changes in the mandibular condyles, the rounded protrusions atop the jaw bones. Scientists also observed changes to the condylar fossa (bony depressions near the tonsils) in 10 percent of study participants, and changes to the articular eminence (bony protuberances that extend slightly downward on each side of the skull toward the condyles) in about 7 percent of patients.

The study’s results indicate that beginning treatment for both TMJ and osteoarthritis at the earliest stages may prevent the progression of bone damage and the severity of symptoms.

Connecting the Skull, Jaw, and Arthritis

Meanwhile, a group of scientists from the University of Arkansas, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Marquette University recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study skull and jaw anatomy with an emphasis on better understanding arthritis’s effects on the temporomandibular joints and developing data to inform future clinical studies of TMJ and other dental problems.

The research will examine how the teeth, jaw, and temporomandibular joints work together, and how they are impacted by aging and changes associated with arthritis and dental wear. Researchers will look at humans as well as 15 other closely related primates for similarities and evolutionary changes.

“We’re trying to provide a more complete picture of the anatomical interrelationships of this complex system,” said Claire Terhune, an assistant professor of anthropology in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, in a press release announcing the grant. “We hope not only to address how the different components are correlated, but also show how changes occur during the lifetime of an individual.”

Denver neuromuscular dentist Dr. Kevin Berry has extensive success helping patients find lasting relief from the painful symptoms of TMJ. If you suffer from headaches and jaw pain that have otherwise defied treatment or diagnosis, please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado today at (303) 691-0267 to learn how Dr. Berry can help you.