Arthritis involving the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) complicates 40 - 96% of cases of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), potentially leading to devastating changes to form and function. Optimal evaluation and management of this joint remains a matter of ongoing discussion.
We performed a PubMed search for all articles with keywords “temporomandibular” and “arthritis”, covering the dates 2002 through February 28, 2018. A separate PubMed search was performed for all articles with keywords “temporomandibular joint”, “arthritis”, and “treatment” covering the same dates.
The TMJ is a particularly challenging joint to assess, both clinically and with imaging studies. Clinical assessment of the TMJ is hampered by the low sensitivity of joint pain as well as the absence of physical exam findings early in the disease process. As with all joints, plain radiography and computed tomography only detect arthritic sequelae. Additionally, there is mixed data on the sensitivity of ultrasound, leaving magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as the optimal diagnostic modality. However, several recent studies have shown that non-arthritic children can have subtle findings on MRI consistent with TMJ arthritis, such as joint effusion and contrast enhancement. Consequently, there has been an intense effort to identify features that can be used to differentiate mild TMJ arthritis from normal TMJs, such as the ratio of the enhancement within the TMJ itself compared to the enhancement in surrounding musculature. With respect to treatment of TMJ arthritis, there is minimal prospective data on medical therapy of this complicated joint. Retrospective studies have suggested that the response to medical therapy of the TMJ may lag behind that of other joints, prompting use of intraarticular (IA) therapy. Although most studies have shown short-term effectiveness of corticosteroids, the long-term safety of this therapy on local growth as well as on the development of IA heterotopic bone have prompted recommendations to limit use of IA corticosteroids. Severe TMJ disease from JIA can also be managed non-operatively with splints in a growing child, as well as with surgery.
In this review, we summarize literature on the diagnosis and management of TMJ arthritis in JIA and suggest a diagnostic and therapeutic algorithm for children with refractory TMJ arthritis.