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How Psoriatic Arthritis Affects the Jaw

Posted on February 04, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Max Mugambi

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a form of chronic inflammatory arthritis that causes swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. In some people, PsA affects the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) — the hinge joints that connect the jawbone to the skull.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, approximately 35 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis experience PsA-related jaw symptoms. If left untreated, these jaw problems can cause significant issues, including ankylosis — the fusion of two joints into one solid joint. Ankylosis of the TMJ can make everyday activities, such as eating and talking, challenging and uncomfortable.

Consult your doctor right away if you experience jaw pain. They will be able to determine whether it’s caused by psoriatic arthritis and recommend the right treatment for you.

What Does Jaw Pain With Psoriatic Arthritis Feel Like?

Psoriatic arthritis can affect the TMJ just like any other joint in the body, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling in the jaw. The jaw pain may be felt in front of or at the top of the ear, in the back part of the jaw, or in the cheek. Jaw pain caused by PsA can feel like — or even be mistaken for — a toothache.

One MyPsoriasisTeam member shared, “My jaw is swollen, and I can't close my jaw without pain.” And, as another member shared, jaw pain can be accompanied by pain in other joints affected by PsA: “I woke up with pain from my jaw all the way to my ankles.”

Jaw pain can be excruciating, especially if you don’t know the cause. You may find it difficult to move your jaw when talking, eating, or drinking, or you may experience difficulties or pain when talking. This pain can significantly affect your quality of life.

As one member of MyPsoriasisTeam explained, “My jaw is swollen, and it’s hard to chew, open my mouth, and brush my teeth.” Another member added that they “could not eat or sleep” as a result of their jaw pain.

What Causes Jaw Pain in People With PsA?

The relationship between PsA and jaw problems also seems to be two-directional. Stress and chronic pain (both can occur with all forms of arthritis) can cause a person to clench their jaw.

Your TMJ is at high risk for damage because it is so frequently used. Small- or large-scale trauma caused by jaw grinding or clenching, combined with existing joint problems, may increase a person’s risk for developing arthritis in the jaw. Note that jaw problems may also occur without PsA. Therefore, you’ll need to receive an accurate diagnosis to determine whether your jaw pain is caused by psoriatic arthritis.

How To Manage Psoriatic Arthritis in the Jaw

Pain in the jawbone can be the most troublesome of the joints that may be affected by PsA. Some people with psoriatic arthritis avoid physical activities that involve their legs or hands, to give them a rest. However, it is hard to avoid talking, eating, yawning, and sleeping, so prompt and strategic treatment is your best course of action. The good news is there are many treatment options for managing jaw pain caused by PsA.

Catch It Early

If you think there is a problem with your jaw, seek medical advice immediately from your rheumatologist, dentist, or other health care provider. Detecting the disease early is key to ensuring the most successful treatment.

If you have psoriatic arthritis or psoriasis, pain and jaw-locking are the first symptoms that may suggest a problem with the TMJ. Identifying these issues can help you and your doctor catch TMJ problems early on. Early identification is important to prevent long-term complications, such as ankylosis.

Ultimately, proper management of psoriatic arthritis in the jaw is a combined effort between you and your health care team. Your rheumatologists should habitually check the full effects of your PsA on various joints, including the TMJ, and it’s important that you let your doctor know of any jaw symptoms you experience as soon as they arise.

Treat Underlying Psoriatic Arthritis and Symptoms

In order to relieve PsA symptoms in the jaw, it’s necessary to treat the underlying PsA itself. Treatment means addressing the inflammation and immune system issues that psoriatic arthritis causes.

Your doctor may prescribe immunosuppressants, biologic medications, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which help prevent joint damage by slowing PsA progression. Your doctor may also recommend topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for relief of mild to moderate jaw pain.

Steroid injections may also help relieve joint pain and swelling in the jaw.

Temporomandibular Joint Surgery

In some cases, surgery for PsA-related jaw problems may be recommended. For example, arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that involves inserting an arthroscope (a tube used to look inside the body) into the TMJ through a small incision.

Total TMJ replacement surgery is reserved for cases of PsA in the jaw that are not resolved with conservative or minimally invasive treatments.

Physical Therapy

Physiotherapy may help manage jaw tension in the short term. Some research has shown that physical therapy can also help lower pain levels in people with TMJ and improve their overall condition.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to other types of treatment, at-home lifestyle adjustments may help alleviate PsA-related jaw pain.

Hot and Cold Therapy

As one MyPsoriasisTeam member wrote, “I have had flares in my jaw. I used ice and heat, which seemed to help.” For hot or cold therapy, you can warm a wet face cloth in the microwave or wrap a bag of ice in a dish towel and hold it against your jaw.

Diet

The above MyPsoriasisTeam member also shared that they found some relief by eating soft foods for a while. Many types of food, such as pretzels, popcorn, chips, caramels, gummy candies, raw carrots, whole apples, and steak, can put a lot of strain on your jaw. Avoiding chewy or crunchy foods that may stress the jaw allows it time to rest.

Jaw Massage

Massaging the muscles around the joint can help ease tension and pain. As one MyPsoriasisTeam member shared, “I’m still healing, but I’m much better due to massage in my tension areas — my ears, neck, and jaw.”

Temporomandibular Disorder Exercises

Certain exercises may help relieve jaw pain, according to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. Talk to your health care provider about finding appropriate exercises before you begin.

Hear From Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people living with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Members support each other, offer advice, and engage in meaningful discussions about life with psoriasis and PsA. On MyPsoriasisTeam, you gain a community of more than 87,000 people who understand life with psoriatic disease.

Do you experience PsA in your jaw? What tips and treatments have helped ease your pain? Share your story in the comments below, or start a conversation with others on MyPsoriasisTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Max Mugambi is a copywriter at MyHealthTeam with more than five years of experience writing about a diverse range of subjects. Learn more about him here.

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