It isn’t just physicians that treat lupus-related injuries. Dentists should also be at least somewhat familiar with the symptoms of lupus: jaw pain can indicate a problem with the teeth, the bones of the jaw and their connective tissues or damage to the glands and tissues near the mouth. Lupus convinces the immune system to produce autoimmune antibodies, cells containing proteins designed to attack healthy tissue. They might attack bones and tissue directly – or cause painful inflammation and swelling that makes movement difficult and stops blood flow to healthy cells, eventually killing them.

Osteoporosis is a condition wherein the bones become thin and brittle. Normally, bones strengthen and renew themselves by breaking down old cells and replacing them with new.  With osteoporosis, the breaking-down process is happening too quickly; the bones are left with an insufficient supply of vital minerals (such as calcium) to perform repairs. Although less commonly seen in the jaw, osteoporosis can damage bones anywhere in the body; as the condition worsens, it becomes more and more painful. Immune attacks due to lupus can lead to osteoporosis – but bone deterioration is also a well-known side effect of a particular drug class called corticosteroids, which are frequently prescribed for lupus.

Arthralgia (inflammation and pain in muscles and joints) and arthritis (damage to the connective tissue in the joints, often permanent) are directly related to antibody attacks. The swelling, heat and stiffness of inflammation is a by-product of the body’s attempt to protect itself, but it’s painful, nonetheless. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge in the jaw that allows the mouth to open and close; arthritis damage to that joint will make chewing and swallowing difficult and painful, interfere with jaw alignment and possibly damage the teeth.


Lupus: Jaw Pain And Dental Procedures


Damage to the tissues and salivary glands of the mouth is likely due to Sjorgren’s Syndrome, a secondary immunodeficiency disease often found with lupus. Sjorgren’s attacks the mucous membranes in the mouth and interferes with the salivary glands’ ability to produce saliva. Oral (mouth) dryness characteristic of Sjorgren’s is clinically referred to as xerostomia, and is usually accompanied by burning and cracking of the tongue, cavities, trouble swallowing and pain in the temporomandibular (jaw) joint.

With lupus, and particularly with secondary diseases like Sjorgren’s that increase the risk of tooth decay, dentists will strongly emphasize preventative care, both of the teeth and the tissues of the mouth. This involves keeping the area very clean and scheduling regular check-ups, but can also include methods to prevent grinding and wearing down of the teeth.


Lupus: Jaw Pain And Medical Treatment


Many degenerative conditions can develop as a result of lupus: jaw pain can also be due to nerve inflammation or destruction, blood vessel obstructions and other, rarer types of immune deficiency damage. However, osteoporosis, Sjogren’s syndrome and arthralgia or arthritis are statistically likely to develop in lupus patients in any area of the body, and are therefore most likely to cause pain and damage in the jaw.

In addition to preventative oral care, dentists usually recommend that lupus patients take antibiotics before a dental procedure, as the disease greatly increases the risk of infection. Doctors will generally begin treatment of jaw pain with anti-inflammatories, as they do not have the same broad range of side effects. If this proves ineffective the doctor will generally proceed to corticosteroids, but lower the dosage or move to another type of medication as soon as possible.

In addition to oral care, lupus patients are advised to eat healthy foods, learn techniques to soothe stress and to get regular exercise, which releases hormones (endorphins) that reduce pain and create a feeling of well-being. Certain herbal remedies can also be effective, if administered by a qualified practitioner. Working with both the physician and the dentist to create a well-rounded treatment plan will both alleviate jaw pain and limit the overall effects of lupus.