Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that strikes an estimated 1.3 million Americans each year. The autoimmune disease is considered a chronic inflammatory disorder, wherein there is swelling and pain around the joints of the body, most commonly around the ankles, knees, wrists and elbows. Rheumatoid arthritis can be debilitating and can cause pain and eventual immobility. But the limbs aren’t the only places that rheumatoid arthritis can strike. It can also appear in other parts of the body – including the jaw.
The condition known as temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMJD, causes the misalignment of the jaw via the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw itself to the skull. Temporomandibular joint dysfunction causes its own painful side effects, including jaw stiffness, tinnitus (ringing of the ears), headaches, neck pain, back pain and difficulty speaking or chewing.
So, what do these conditions have to do with each other? Dr. Kelley Mingus, a dentist from Bend, Oregon, says about half of all patients with rheumatoid arthritis suffer from temporomandibular joint dysfunction as well, though exact numbers are not known.
“We know that the data vary greatly about the exact number. We do know that RA affects more women than men, as does temporomandibular joint dysfunction,” Mingus says.
So what can be done for sufferers of both conditions? Mingus says the solution may be twofold.
“Thankfully, there are treatment options for both conditions,” he says, “but those options require a little patience.”
Those options include treating the rheumatoid arthritis with drugs such as NSAIDs and anti-inflammatories for the swelling of the joints, and treating the TMJD symptoms separately.
“Unfortunately there is no magic pill or cure for temporomandibular joint dysfunction,” Mingus says. “But there are some very effective treatments, such as a specialized form of dentistry called epigenetic orthodontics or, another name, neuromuscular dentistry.
“Epigenetic orthodontics is better than pills because it treats the root problem, which is the misalignment of the jaw. Epigenetic orthodontics basically realigns the jaw and puts it back into its correct place.”
According to Mingus, epigenetic orthodontic treatment can take some time, but the results are worth the wait.
“It’s not a quick fix,” he says. “It requires patience and a time investment, but it’s worth it in the end because the pain you’ve endured with TMJ dysfunction simply isn’t there anymore.”