Psoriatic Arthritis Tips: Caring for Your Painful Jaw
Of all the joints that give me trouble, the jaw is probably the worst offender. It’s not that it’s the most painful but that it’s the joint I use the most.
Managing jaw pain with psoriatic arthritis
Jaw pain is a common problem for those with psoriatic arthritis, and due to the jaw’s necessity, it’s a joint that rheumatologists keep an eye on.
In fact, one may even be referred to jaw surgeons to keep an eye on it. Unlike other joints the jaw can’t be as easily replaced so when arthritis strikes, it is treated aggressively. Thankfully there are many options for treatment of jaw pain, many of them very simple: I’ve used almost all of them, and can confirm that they can be highly effective.
I’ve also ordered them from basic therapies to more sophisticated treatments (you may or may not go through a similar order when treating your jaw). This isn’t a comprehensive list though, and you should always discuss your options with your doctor.
Soft food diet
And it doesn’t have to be terribly blank or boring; one of my favorite places to go during a flare is Panera for some cheddar broccoli or tomato soup with a smoothie! Have fun looking up soft food recipes likes soups and thick drinks - look at it as an opportunity to try some yummy, new foods!
Physical therapy for jaw pain
It’s my least favorite thing in the world, but is invaluable for anyone with arthritis of the jaw. The exercises and stretches your doctor or physical therapist will give you tend to be very simple and can be done while watching TV, and some can even be done while doing laundry or driving (though you may get some odd looks from strangers).
These exercises need to be done frequently, but often only for a few minutes at a time and tend to help the pain immediately.
Ice and heat
These can be tricky for this particular joint, but extremely beneficial. Apply and alternate as if you would any joint. The issue is getting it to stay in place.
I recommend heating/icing while lying on your back or sitting reclined, that way you can lie back (lying on the side can sometimes hurt the jaw) and allow gravity to hold the pack in place. Most people find moist heat to be the most beneficial and comforting and can be achieved with heating up a facecloth.
Some people swear by acupuncture! Even doctors may recommend it. It’s a great way to help your muscles stop tensing and relieve pain. And it’s a great option for those of us who choose to treat their PsA without medication.
It’s best to ask your doctor for a recommendation to a good acupuncturist, and some insurances will cover the sessions.
Medications for jaw pain
If you don’t already, your doctor may add other anti-inflammatory medications to your treatment regimens during jaw flares to reduce the inflammation and help prevent damage and interruptions to life. However, this may not be necessary if other, simpler therapies seem to be effective.
Mouth guards and braces
Maybe you’re a grinder, or maybe your teeth aren’t aligned. Those things can aggravate jaw arthritis very much. Your rheumatologist may recommend seeing an oral surgeon, orthodontist, or other oral healthcare specialists to get fitted for a brace or guard. They work just as a knee or wrist brace would: by holding your jaw in an optimal position to relieve pain and inflammation.
Don’t worry if they look odd or make it hard to talk- most times they only need to be worn for a few hours a day, so usually wearing them only to bed will suffice (but always follow the instructions of your doctor). I wear a combination of a brace and a night guard and they help tremendously!
I also tend to be sore if I forget to wear them before bed. If you require a brace or guard, I recommend setting an alarm or reminder on your phone before bed! I’ve had to learn that the hard way.
While this is certainly one of my least favorite treatments, it can help a lot. Steroids and anti-inflammatory medications can be injected directly into the joint to help relieve inflammation and pain immediately.
Though it sounds unpleasant, it is certainly worth considering if pain becomes unmanageable. Your doctor may also recommend injecting saline to help clean the joint if it appears damaged, and again while it’s certainly not something on most people’s bucket lists, it can help a lot. This tends to be done only in the case of other treatments not working though, so if you really don’t like the idea of jaw injections, try not to worry!
I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid surgery for my jaw, but I do have family members that have undergone certain procedures. It’s not too common for doctors to want to surgically correct the jaw, however that is a decision for your doctor or surgeon to make.
One common topic that comes up for teens and young adults with arthritis of the jaw is what to do regarding wisdom teeth removal. While most people can have this done in a dentist’s office, those with psoriatic arthritis should find a skilled oral surgeon and may need to have wisdom teeth removed in the hospital or in multiple sessions.
Though it can seem like more of a hassle, letting wisdom teeth stay can cause future pain and further impact the jaw- only your dentist can tell you if the procedure is necessary.
Talk to your doctor!
Though the thought of arthritis in the jaw can seem terrifying, it can often be managed - especially with early treatment. While it can seem like a lot, often the very basic measures help out a lot! Talk to your doctor before beginning any treatment.
Do you have a sleep disorder (eg. insomnia, sleep apnea, RLS) in addition to your PsA?