Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) in the jaw, resulting in jaw pain. According to statistics, more than 17 percent of RA patients, including juvenile arthritis patients, can experience rheumatoid arthritis jaw pain, swelling, and limited movement of the jaw joint.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) which affects children can speed up or slow down the natural growth process of the bones on either side of the affected joint.
Parents of children suffering with juvenile RA have often wondered – How can you have rheumatoid arthritis in your jaw? – often seeking the second opinion.
Can rheumatoid arthritis affect your jaw?
The answer is, yes!
The jaw joint can be impacted by rheumatoid arthritis much like it impacts other joints in the body with inflammation, bone erosion, and tissue damage.
Problems with the jaw joints are often referred to as temporomandibular joint dysfunction or temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Typically, the disorder can include:
- Dislocation of the jaw
- Difficulty eating hard chewy foods
- Scraping noise
Treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis and jaw pain
Anti-inflammatory creams such as Feldene or Nurofen applied on the jaw can provide temporary relief. It’s not uncommon for TMJ patients to be referred to an orthodontist who will try to manage the condition with the help of various dental appliances, splints, physical therapies, and orthodontics. In addition to the above, hot fomentations, ice packs, and mouth exercises can improve prognosis, as can a variety of self-help strategies.
How to relieve arthritis pain in jaw?
There are two simple exercises that may be useful for TMJ patients or people with TMD. But you must never do these exercises if the joint is inflamed. Wait till the inflammation settles down before embarking on these routines. Also, prior starting these exercises, make sure you first warm up your facial muscles for a few minutes with a warm compress.
- Slowly open your mouth slowly.
- Curl your tongue upwards in such a way that the tip of your tongue touches the rear of the roof of your mouth.
- Holding your tongue in this position, close your mouth slowly. Do this 10 times. Repeat twice or thrice daily.
- Look into a mirror sitting upright.
- Slowly open your mouth. Make sure your lower jaw does not swing to one side. Use your hand to guide your jaw, if necessary.
- Close mouth.
- Do this 10 times. Repeat twice or thrice daily.
- In addition to the exercises, there are other things you can do to help relax the muscles around your jaw joint and ease the pain and discomfort.
- Rest the joint by eating soft food and avoiding chewing gum
- Limit opening your mouth wide (it should not go past three fingers)
- While yawning, cup a hand under the jaw to restrict the opening
- Keep the nose clear to avoid mouth breathing
- Check for a relaxed jaw before drifting off to sleep
- Take warm water into the mouth and hold in the cheek to stretch these muscles
- After a long dental procedure, apply a heat pack over the jaw and rest the jaw
There is also a ‘not to do’ list that can help people with TMJ relieve their pain and discomfort. Try avoiding the following activities:
- Biting you nails (This is the single worst culprit and must be stopped immediately)
- Holding the jaw muscles clenched – allow them to relax
- Chewing pens and pencils
- Resting your chin on your hand
- Using your teeth to cut sewing threads or fishing line
- Constantly chewing gum or crunching ice
- Grinding the teeth and clenching the jaw
- Constantly playing with the jaw or clicking it in and out.
The biggest problem with TMJ is the lack of officially accepted practices and research-based treatment options. As such, it is important for the patient to be able to assess prognosis and switch treatments if necessary. Remember, what works for one may not work for another. So stick with whatever treatment suits you best.