Yes, you can get arthritis in your jaw, although it’s not the location most people think of when it comes to arthritis.

Arthritis in your jaw can be caused by:

Jaw arthritis can range from mild to severe and may get worse over time. It can also result in symptoms associated with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

This article will help explain how different types of arthritis can affect the jaw and the treatment options that may help.

Fast facts about arthritis in the jaw

  • Because the jaw combines both hinge and sliding motions, it’s considered to be one of the most complicated joints in your body.
  • According to a 2014 review, osteoarthritis of the jaw affects an estimated 8 percent to 16 percent of the world population.
  • According to the same study, jaw osteoarthritis affects more women than men.
  • Osteoarthritis can affect one or both sides of your jaw.
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Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a common form of degenerative arthritis, which can affect any joint in your body. It’s associated with joint overuse, and it becomes more common as you age.

Osteoarthritis of the jaw is characterized by the destruction of the hard and soft tissues around the jaw joints. This can change the shape and functioning of the jaw.

Jaw damage may be on one or both sides of the jaw.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack healthy tissue lining your joints. It’s a chronic inflammatory condition.

Jaw symptoms usually occur in the later stages of RA. Both sides of the jaw may be affected.

In a 2007 study of people with RA, close to 93 percent of them had TMJ symptoms or destruction of the jaw bone. The same study found that the severity of the TMJ disorder was related to the RA severity.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an inflammatory joint condition that occurs in about 30 percent of people who have the skin condition psoriasis. It’s an autoimmune condition that’s thought to run in families.

PsA is a chronic condition, but symptoms may come and go. If not treated early on, it can damage the jaw irreversibly, as noted in a 2015 study.

PsA is a spondyloarthritis type of arthritis. Other types of arthritis in this group may also cause TMJ disorders.

The same 2015 study of 112 people — some with psoriasis only and some with both psoriasis and PsA — found that both groups had symptoms of TMJ disorders.

But those with PsA had significantly more symptoms of:

  • jaw opening problems
  • teeth grinding and clenching
  • jaw noises

The symptoms of arthritis in your jaw can vary depending on the severity of the arthritis. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • pain, which can be a dull ache or a sharp stab when you move your jaw
  • inflammation in or around your jaw joints
  • restricted joint movement or locking of your jaw
  • jaw tenderness
  • jaw stiffness, especially in the morning
  • a creaking, grating, clicking, or crunching noise (called crepitus)
  • difficulty chewing
  • facial pain or pain around your ear or neck
  • headaches
  • tooth pain

Temporomandibular joint disorders are fairly common, affecting about 10 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Arthritis in the jaw can produce symptoms of TMJ disorders. These can include:

  • chronic inflammation
  • cartilage deterioration
  • restriction of movement

The progression and severity of TMJ disorders depend on the type of arthritis involved. The mechanism of how arthritis cartilage degeneration results in TMJ disorders isn’t fully understood.

Jaw pain can have many causes, and sometimes there can be more than one cause. Pain in your jaw isn’t always associated with bone damage.

Besides arthritis, jaw pain may also be caused by:

  • Repetitive motion. Some common culprits include:
    • frequent gum chewing
    • clenching or grinding your teeth
    • fingernail biting
  • Injury. This can be due to:
    • an infection, such as a sinus infection
    • a blow to the jaw
    • stretching the jaw, like with a dental procedure
    • insertion of tubes during a medical procedure
  • Physical problems. Examples can include:
    • misalignment of your teeth
    • inherited structural jaw problems
    • connective tissue diseases
  • Medications. Some prescription drugs may affect your jaw muscles and cause pain.
  • Emotional factors. Anxiety, depression, and stress can cause tense, tight jaw muscles or make jaw pain worse.

If you have jaw pain, it’s a good idea to see your dentist or doctor to find out the cause. The earlier you treat arthritis or TMJ issues, the better the prognosis. Catching arthritis early may help prevent damage to your jaw.

Your healthcare provider will request your medical history and physically examine your jaw. They’ll also ask about your symptoms and may order a blood test.

To help diagnose the cause of your jaw pain, your healthcare provider may order imaging tests. These may include:

Treatment for jaw arthritis will depend on the type of arthritis you have and its severity.

In general, the goal of treatment is to:

  • prevent further jaw deterioration
  • manage pain
  • maintain your jaw function

As yet, there’s no treatment to reverse the damage of jaw arthritis.

A 2017 review of studies about jaw arthritis reported that initial conservative measures resolved pain symptoms in more than 80 percent of people with jaw arthritis. These measures included:

Depending on your jaw arthritis symptoms and how severe your symptoms are, your healthcare provider may also prescribe:

Surgery

If conservative treatments aren’t effective at relieving pain or other symptoms, surgery may be an option.

One option is arthroscopy with arthrocentesis, which is a minimally invasive procedure with a high success rate.

According to a 2017 review, this procedure relieves symptoms in 70 percent to 86 percent of people with jaw arthritis who still have pain after trying conservative treatments.

During this procedure, your healthcare provider will create one or more small holes above the jaw joint. Next, they’ll insert an arthroscope — a tool that has a light and a camera — to look at the joint.

Once your healthcare provider can see your jaw joint clearly, they’ll insert tiny tools into the opening to:

  • remove scar tissue
  • reshape the joint
  • relieve swelling

They’ll also inject fluid into your joint, which is a procedure called arthrocentesis.

The fluid helps to wash out any chemical by-products of inflammation. This may help reduce pressure on the joint and help your jaw regain some range of motion.

Open surgery is a last-resort option for people with extreme jaw dysfunction or persistent pain. Total joint replacement is also possible.

If your jaw pain isn’t too severe and isn’t interfering with your day-to-day life, you may want to try easing your jaw discomfort with self-care measures.

Some options include:

  • Resting your jaw. Avoiding opening your jaw wide and trying to stick to eating softer foods that you don’t have to chew too much may provide relief.
  • Ice or heat therapy. Applying a cold compress can ease inflammation, while a heating pad or hot water bottle may help relax your jaw muscles.
  • Jaw exercises. Doing specific jaw exercises may help to strengthen your jaw muscles and improve the movement of your jaw joints.
  • Relaxation exercises. If you clench your jaw when you’re stressed, relaxation exercises may help you feel calmer and less tense.
  • Massaging your jaw muscles. Massaging your jaw muscles may help to improve blood flow and speed up healing.
  • Wear a mouthguard at night. If you’re prone to grinding your teeth when you sleep, a mouthguard may help prevent this.

Although the jaw isn’t usually associated with arthritis, it can happen in many joints throughout the body, including your jaw. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriatic arthritis can cause arthritis in the jaw.

Pain, inflammation, and restricted movement of the jaw are the most common symptoms. Arthritis can also cause TMJ disorders.

Early diagnosis of jaw arthritis may help to prevent or delay further jaw deterioration. Conservative measures are usually the first line of treatment. If pain persists or if jaw damage is extreme, surgery may be necessary.