Temporomandibular joint pain may have a bigger impact on children than previously thought, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatric Rheumatology. The journal, which covers topics in juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, found that children with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to experience temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and that the temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ dysfunction) has a deeper impact than previously known.
Oral health problems have long been the cause of missed school among children. In fact, oral health issues cause children to miss an average of six days a year at the elementary school level, and just over two and a half days a year at the high school level. But the Pediatric Rheumatology study found that children with TMJ dysfunction also miss school, and that’s not all.
“The study found that children were more depressed when TMJ dysfunction and other joint problems were present due to rheumatoid arthritis,” says Dr. Raul Garcia, a Miami-based dentist who treats TMJ dysfunction.
That’s because, between the often unbearable pain of TMJ dysfunction and the anxiety of having the illness, the children suffer from undue stress. As a result, their social lives suffer, as many withdraw from social activities and interactions with friends and peers.
But the news gets worse, because, according to the study, children also experience more overall health issues when these conditions are present. Researchers believe this is due to the “systemic inflammation” caused by orofacial pain – including TMJ dysfunction. These children become sick more often, and their other rheumatoid arthritis symptoms worsen in tandem.
“TMJ dysfunction is bad enough without these extra conditions getting in the way,” says Garcia.
Garcia says the study highlights the importance of coordinating efforts with dentists and rheumatologists to create a care plan individualized to each patient. There are ways to treat TMJ dysfunction and realign the temporomandibular joint that can ease the pain and help stop the systemic inflammation it causes.
“What we want to do is get the jaw into proper alignment so these problems don’t get worse,” he says.
According to Garcia, an effective course of action called physiologic dentistry or neuromuscular dentistry is the gold standard in treating temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
“Physiological dentistry is the most permanent way to treat TMJ dysfunction, and the most effective,” he says.
Garcia says patients seeking this type of treatment should speak with a dentist trained in this specialty and develop a treatment plan.
“It’s not a Band-Aid fix that may or may not work and will need to be repeated every three to six months,” he says. “It’s fixing the root problem so you can live a pain-free life.”