If you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis, you already know how it can impact your joints. The pain, swelling and tenderness caused by RA can contribute to a lower quality of life, limited activity and a number of other conditions, including temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).

TMD is a disorder that affects the jaw joint and the muscles around it. Symptoms can include jaw pain, popping or clicking noises when opening and closing the mouth, and difficulty chewing. While the exact cause of TMD is not known, research suggests that RA may play a role in its development for some people. 

What Is RA? 

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the joints. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissue, leading to swelling, pain and stiffness. Over time, this chronic inflammation can cause damage to the cartilage and bones around a joint, leading to deformity. RA typically affects multiple joints, including those in the hands, wrists, feet, elbows and shoulders. 

How Does RA Contribute to TMD? 

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the temporomandibular joint in several ways. For instance, if RA leads to inflammation of the joint, it can cause pain and stiffness that can interfere with the normal movement of the jaw. Additionally, if RA has caused deformity of other joints in the body (such as the shoulders, wrists or hands), it can lead to poor posture and an unbalanced bite, which can put extra stress on the jaw joint.

In some cases, RA can cause damage to the cartilage and bones in the jaw joint itself. Damage to this delicate structure can lead to misalignment of the jaw, further contributing to TMD symptoms. 

Who Gets RA? 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that can affect people of any age, gender or ethnic background. The condition is more prevalent among women than men and typically begins between the ages of 30 and 50. Early diagnosis and treatment of RA can help reduce the risk of developing complications like TMD.

RA is an autoimmune inflammatory disorder that is caused by the body’s immune system turning on its own joints. Other autoimmune diseases include lupus, thyroiditis and multiple sclerosis. Many autoimmune conditions have joint involvement and painful joint systems. 

Risk Factors Contributing to the Development of RA

There are rheumatoid factors that can contribute to the development of RA. These include:

  • Age: Risk increases with age.
  • Genetics: Having a family history of RA.
  • Smoking
  • Gender: Women are at higher risk than men.
  • Infection: Certain infections may trigger the development of RA.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain environmental toxins may increase your risk.

What Are The Signs of TMD? 

TMD can cause a number of common symptoms, including joint inflammation, pain or tenderness in the jaw, difficulty opening and closing the mouth, headaches, and earaches. Other signs may include popping or clicking noises when moving the jaw, a locked jaw that is difficult to open or close, and facial pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment of TMD Caused by RA 

If you have TMD and RA, your doctor may recommend a combination of treatments. For instance, anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce inflammation and pain. Physical therapy may also be recommended to help improve posture and jaw alignment. Surgery may also be an option in cases where the joint has become severely misaligned or damaged due to RA.

Risk Factors Contributing to the Development of TMD

There are several risk factors that can contribute to the development of TMD. These include:

  • Bruxism: Clenching or grinding your teeth can put extra stress on the temporomandibular joint and lead to TMD.
  • Injury: Trauma or injury to the jaw can cause the joint to become misaligned, leading to TMD.
  • Poor posture: Poor posture can lead to an unbalanced bite, which can put extra stress on the jaw joint.
  • Stress: Stress can cause the muscles of the jaw to become tense and tight, resulting in pain and difficulty moving the jaw.

Another contributing factor to painful jaw joint symptoms and the development of TMJ issues is a bad or unbalanced bite. 

If left untreated, RA and TMD together can contribute to serious jaw problems and loss of function of the jaw, decreased range of motion of the jaw and a significant impact on one’s quality of life. 


Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can lead to inflammation and damage to joints throughout the body. In some cases, RA can cause inflammation and damage to the temporomandibular joint, leading to the development of TMD. Risk factors for developing TMD include bruxism, injury, poor posture, stress and a bad or unbalanced bite. Treatment of TMD caused by RA typically involves anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and in some cases surgery.