man holding his neck in painPart of the challenge in properly diagnosing temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD), is that they can have numerous different symptoms. These symptoms can overlap with multiple other conditions, making misdiagnosis possible. Some of the conditions that have the greatest overlap with TMJ are inflammatory arthritis conditions.

It’s important to consider whether these conditions might be causing your symptoms. A Detroit TMJ dentist at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute can help you track down the true cause of your jaw symptoms so you can get effective treatment.

What Is Inflammatory Arthritis?

Arthritis is a name for a large category of conditions affecting many people in Detroit. What these conditions all have in common is that they affect the joints.

Inflammatory arthritis describes arthritis that involves inflammatory compounds, usually associated with the immune system. Infection sometimes causes inflammatory arthritis. However, most cases of inflammatory arthritis that attack your jaw joints aren’t related to infection. Instead, the types of inflammatory arthritis that most often attacks jaw joints are autoimmune inflammatory arthritis.

Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system attacks your body. In autoimmune inflammatory arthritis, the immune system attacks your joints, though it might also attack other parts of the body as well. The three types of autoimmune arthritis that normally affect the jaw joints are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis that commonly affects the jaw joints. This type of arthritis typically affects synovial joints–joints filled with fluid and cushioned by a cartilage disc, such as the jaw joint. The immune system attacks the lining of the joint, causing painful swelling, joint damage, and eventually joint destruction.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is related to psoriasis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the skin, causing rough red patches on the skin. Usually, people with this condition have psoriasis for years before developing arthritis.

We don’t know how commonly psoriatic arthritis affects the jaw joints. Perhaps 90% of people with psoriatic arthritis might experience jaw joint involvement, but it only causes symptoms in about a third of those.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is inflammatory arthritis that most commonly affects the spine. Over time, the attacks lead to a fusing of the vertebrae, leading to inflexibility, a hunched posture, and pain. Ankylosing spondylitis also attacks the jaw joint in about a fifth of people with the condition.

Jaw Symptoms Related to Inflammatory Arthritis

People with inflammatory arthritis often experience jaw symptoms similar to TMJ. This might include:

  • Jaw pain (both in jaw joints and muscles)
  • Jaw sounds (popping and clicking sounds)
  • Restricted jaw motion
  • Locked jaw

These symptoms might make you seek out a Detroit TMJ dentist for a diagnosis. However, the problem might not be TMJ at all.

How to Tell TMJ from Inflammatory Arthritis

So how can you tell when you should seek out a Detroit TMJ dentist and when you should talk to your doctor about your symptoms? You are more likely to have TMJ if you have:

  • No personal or family history of autoimmune disorders
  • Headaches
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and other ear symptoms
  • No other joints affected

Note that while TMJ won’t affect the joints in your hands, it might still cause some hand-related symptoms. TMJ can cause tingling and numbness in your fingers. If you have tingling and numbness in your fingers–especially your middle, ring, and pinky fingers–you should suspect TMJ rather than inflammatory arthritis.

However, you should suspect inflammatory arthritis if you have:

  • Been diagnosed with autoimmune disorders
  • Symptoms of autoimmune disorders
  • Other joints with painful symptoms, especially the hands, feet, and spine
  • A family history of autoimmune disorders

Regarding your family history, it’s important to know that you might not develop the same autoimmune diseases as your other family members.

A Detroit TMJ Dentist Can Help with Inflammatory Arthritis

Just because you’re diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis, it doesn’t mean that a Detroit TMJ dentist can’t help you. There are no cures for inflammatory arthritis. Treatment usually focuses on managing the symptoms. Since these symptoms overlap significantly with TMJ symptoms, a TMJ dentist can often help. For example, an oral appliance is a common treatment for inflammatory arthritis. TMJ dentists have extensive experience designing these appliances for the comfort and relief of their patients.

Relief from Jaw Symptoms in Detroit

If you are experiencing painful jaw symptoms in Detroit, the TMJ dentists at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute can help. We can use our detailed approach to scientific diagnosis to help determine what is causing your jaw symptoms. We can diagnose you with TMJ, determine whether another condition might be responsible, and then refer you to an appropriate specialist.

To talk to a TMJ dentist, please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form today to request an appointment at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute in Warren, Michigan.