4 Things Lupus Sufferers Need To Know About TMD

29 January 2016
 Categories: Dentist, Articles

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is a broad term that describes dysfunctions of your jaw joint. Problems with the muscles, cartilage, bones, or other structures within the joint can all fall under the umbrella of this disorder. TMD can occur as a result of many different medical conditions, including lupus. Here are four things lupus sufferers need to know about TMD.

What are the signs of TMD?

There are a variety of signs and symptoms that could indicate that you have TMD. Pain or tenderness around your jaw joint is a major symptom of this disorder, and the pain may radiate to nearby areas and may lead to problems like earaches or headaches. You may also feel aching facial pain as a result of your jaw problems. Another possible symptom is an annoying clicking sound from within your jaw joint when you open your mouth.

A sore jaw can cause other problems, too. You may have trouble opening your mouth wide enough to bite your food, and chewing may be difficult or uncomfortable. Sometimes, your jaw can even lock in place, either in an open or closed position.

If you notice any of these signs, bring them to your dentist's attention. Make sure to tell your dentist that you have lupus, as this information can help your dentist diagnose the problem.

How does lupus cause TMD?

All of the lupus-related complications you experience begin with autoantibodies. These autoantibodies are immune system cells that target your own healthy tissues, instead of attacking bacteria and viruses like they're supposed to. When your autoantibodies attack your tissues, the affected tissues become inflamed and damaged.

Any tissue can be attacked by autoantibodies, including the joints. Most commonly, the joints in the fingers, wrists, and knees are affected, but in some cases, other joints, like the temporomandibular joint in your jaw, can be affected.

When your autoantibodies attack your temporomandibular joint, it becomes inflamed, which causes the symptoms associated with TMD. Fortunately, the joint pain associated with lupus tends to be temporary, and lupus doesn't damage the joints as much as rheumatoid arthritis does.  

Is TMD common among lupus sufferers?

Studies have indicated that TMD is quite common among people with lupus. One study selected 37 lupus patients at random and found that one-third of the patients had current TMD symptoms, while two-thirds had experienced severe TMD symptoms at some point in the past.

The condition is much less common among the general population. Various studies have reported prevalence rates of between 5% and 12% in the general population.

How is TMD treated?

Your dentist can't treat the lupus that is responsible for your TMD, as that's a task for your rheumatologist, but your dentist can help you manage your symptoms. Many treatments are available to help ease the discomfort associated with TMD.

Your dentist may recommend home treatments like holding an ice pack against your sore jaw to reduce inflammation. Following a soft foods diet can also avoid aggravating your jaw; chewy and hard foods should be avoided until you're feeling better. Adjusting your yawning technique can also be helpful. Instead of yawning widely, hold your fist beneath your chin when you yawn to keep yourself from straining your jaw.

Medications can also be helpful. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen can help control your inflammation and discomfort. These medications are available over-the-counter, but they don't help, you may need prescription-strength versions.

If home treatments and medications aren't helpful, other options are available. Newer treatments like radio wave therapy, which uses low-level electrical currents to increase blood flow to the joint, may help ease your pain. Your dentist may also use ultrasound, a deep heat treatment, on your sore joints to help ease the pain.

If you have lupus and your jaw hurts, you may have temporomandibular joint disorder. With the help of a dentist, such as Dr. Daniel Bade DDS, this painful condition can be managed.