Arthritis is a common condition that affects most people as we age. It’s responsible for joint pain, and this means that because the temporomandibular joints are often affected by arthritis, many people with arthritis experience jaw pain as part of their condition. And since arthritis is really an umbrella term describing more than 100 different conditions, it might make sense to classify TMJ as just another item under that umbrella.
What Is Arthritis?
To understand whether TMJ is arthritis, we have to make sure we know what arthritis actually is. Arthritis is defined as swelling of the joint, which is part of your body’s response to injury, which can come in many different forms. The problem is, this healing response can actually be damaging in some ways, breaking down the body’s cartilage, resulting in further injury to the joint.
So what causes injury to the joint? The most common cause is when your joint just suffers from years and years of wear and tear, resulting in a type of arthritis known as osteoarthritis. The second most common cause of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body’s immune system attacks the joint tissue for unknown reasons. Psoriatic arthritis is a similar condition that occurs along with the autoimmune disorder psoriasis, in which the immune system attacks the skin. Lupus is another autoimmune disorder that can attack your joints. Gout, a condition in which the body deposits crystals in the joint, is another cause of arthritis. Septic arthritis is when you have a bacterial infection that attacks your joints.
TMJ: Arthritis and Beyond
However, the reason why TMJ can’t be classified with these types of arthritis because it goes beyond the joint. It may start out as a joint problem (although it doesn’t alway), but it includes a number of other body systems as well as the joint, which can then lead to far-reaching symptoms.
The muscles of the jaw are the most commonly affected adjacent system. When your jaw joint is imbalanced, it can put additional stress on your jaw muscles. These muscles then pass stress onto your head and neck, resulting in headaches and neck pain. Ear canal complications and/or nerve problems can result in tinnitus. Tingling hands, tooth damage, and more additional symptoms further distinguish TMJ from being just another type of arthritis.
Although it’s important to talk to your doctor about arthritis if you think you might be experiencing it, TMJ is more than arthritis and may require additional or different TMJ treatments.