Temporomandibular Joint Disorder Found to Be a Common Condition in Systemic Sclerosis Patients

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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According to a news release, it was recently demonstrated at the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) Annual European Congress of Rheumatology on June 2015 that temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD) is a common medical condition among patients with systemic sclerosis.

TMJD refers to a condition characterized by pain and dysfunction of the muscles of mastication (muscles responsible for the jaw movement) and the temporomandibular joints, which connect the jaw to the temporal bones in the skull. Patients can experience pain, restricted mandibular movement and noises from the joints when moving the jaw. TMJD is not a life-threatening disorder, but it can affect the patient’s quality of life.

Systemic sclerosis is a rare, chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks healthy tissues resulting in a hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues due to excessive collagen deposition. The disease usually affects the skin, but it can also affect internal organs such as the lungs, heart, blood vessels, kidneys and the digestive tract. Systemic sclerosis can be classified into limited or diffuse based on the extent of skin tightening. In the limited disease, skin tightening is confined to the fingers, hands and forearms; it can also occur on the feet and legs. In the diffuse disease, the skin of the proximal extremities and trunk is also involved. Patients with diffuse systemic sclerosis are at greater risk of organ dysfunction.

In the study presented at EULAR 2015, the research team assessed 27 patients (mean age of 53.9 years) with systemic sclerosis, including 12 with diffuse disease and 15 with limited disease. As controls, 28 healthy volunteers of similar age were assessed. All participants were submitted to an oro-facial examination evaluating pain and abnormal sounds in the temporomandibular joints, tenderness in the muscles of mastication, and limitations in the mandibular movement. Patients also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and the severity of their symptoms was analyzed through the Anamnestic and Dysfunctional Index.

Researchers found that systemic sclerosis patients were more likely to develop TMJD dysfunction in comparison to the control group, and to be more prone to have audible sounds and pain during jaw movement and more difficulty in opening the mouth to the maximum extent. Interestingly, the team found that the degree of TMJD symptoms experienced by the patients correlated with systemic sclerosis disease severity.

In conclusion, the research team reported that TMJD is a common condition in systemic sclerosis patients, and that it correlates with disease severity.