The wide range of disease prevalences reported in epidemiological studies of temporomandibular degenerative joint disease reflects the fact that diagnoses are frequently guided by the presence or absence of non-specific signs and symptoms. Treatment is aimed at alleviating the disease symptoms rather than being guided by an understanding of the underlying disease processes. Much of our current understanding of disease processes in the temporomandibular joint is based on the study of other articular joints. Although it is likely that the molecular basis of pathogenesis is similar to that of other joints, additional study of the temporomandibular joint is required due to its unique structure and function. This review summarizes the unique structural and molecular features of the temporomandibular joint and the epidemiology of degenerative temporomandibular joint disease. As is discussed in this review, recent research has provided a better understanding of the molecular basis of degenerative joint disease processes, including insights into: the regulation of cytokine expression and activation, arachidonic acid metabolism, neural contributions to inflammation, mechanisms of extracellular matrix degradation, modulation of cell adhesion in inflammatory states, and the roles of free radicals and heat shock proteins in degenerative joint disease. Finally, the multiple cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in disease initiation and progression, along with factors that may modify the adaptive capacity of the joint, are presented as the basis for the rational design of new and more effective therapy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas