Jaw Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

There are many forms of jaw arthritis, all affecting the joint in a person’s jaw known as the “temperomandibular joint” (TMJ). The temperomandibular joint allows the skulls temporal bone to connect with the mandible or lower jawbone. It is one of the joints in the body that we commonly use because within it are parts that enable us to move our jaws when we eat bite, talk and yawn.

Many of the symptoms of jaw arthritis are results of stress on surrounding structures of the joint such as the jaw muscles and the joint’s cartilage disk, and the ligaments, nerves and blood vessels around the joint as well as the teeth, neck and face. Stress on these structures lead to muscle spasm, which in turn causes jaw muscles to contract and puts strain on nearby nerves. Other likely causes of jaw arthritis include fractures, jaw dislocations, and genetic problems with the jaw structure.

Oftentimes, the cause of jaw arthritis is a combination of anatomic joint problems and tension in the jaw muscle. Overuse of the jaw muscle will result in pain and stiffness around the jaw. Some problems that bring about jaw muscle overuse are head or neck injuries, misaligned sets of teeth, missing teeth, and teeth grinding during sleep. Poor posture is another possible cause of muscle overuse and, consequently, jaw arthritis. For instance, holding your head in a forward-leaning position when you are working on the computer for 8 hours or more everyday will strain the muscles in your neck and face. Other factors that may contribute to jaw arthritis include lack of sleep and poor diet.

The treatment of jaw arthritis varies greatly depending on the cause but the three most common jaw arthritis treatments are splint therapy, physical therapy and drug therapy.

Splint therapy is the usual treatment for jaw arthritis. This is very helpful for people who are clenching or grinding their teeth in their sleep. A splint works like a nightguard. It is made of a flimsy plastic material customized to fit the patient’s upper or lower set of teeth. The doctor will adjust the splint to ensure the patient has an even bite. The patient wears the splint at night to reduce teeth grinding and, during the day, to help the jaw muscle stay relaxed. Splint therapy typically lasts 8 weeks or until symptoms subside

Physical therapy to treat jaw arthritis may include ultrasound treatment, spray and stretch exercises, friction massage, and other therapies to help manage stress. Drug therapy is mainly to relieve muscle pain and stiffness, usually while waiting for a splint. All these therapies generally improve symptoms within three months.