Septic arthritis of the temporomandibular joint: a retrospective review of 40 cases

J Oral Maxillofac Surg. 2010 Apr;68(4):731-8. doi: 10.1016/j.joms.2009.07.060. Epub 2009 Dec 2.


Purpose: Septic arthritis of the temporomandibular joint is an uncommonly reported entity. The aim of the present study was to review the cases treated at our clinic, analyze the characteristics of this disease and the responses to management, and recommend a protocol for managing suspected cases.

Patients and methods: A total of 40 consecutive patients were included from 1995 to 2007. Their demographics, predisposing factors, clinical manifestations, radiologic findings, joint fluid analysis results, treatment, and outcomes were reviewed.

Results: The 40 patients included 26 men and 14 women, with an average age of 36 years. Original infections were found in 15 patients (local spread in 4 and hematogenous dissemination from a distant site in 11). All patients complained of trismus and tenderness in the temporomandibular joint. Sudden malocclusion was found in 33 patients. Joint space widening and limitation of condyle movement were demonstrated by plain film in 33 patients. Increased joint effusion was confirmed by magnetic resonance imaging in 7 patients. Joint fluid was obtained from 35 patients. A high level of neutrophils and fibrin were found under microscopy with hematoxylin-eosin staining. Staphylococcus saprophyticus and S. aureus were cultured from 5 patients. Arthrocentesis under low pressure was applied to 35 patients, and arthroscopy was used in 9 patients. Major sequelae occurred in 11 patients, including fibrosis in 2 and postinfectious osteoarthritis in 9.

Conclusions: Septic arthritis of the temporomandibular joint mainly arises from hematogenous spread, but the original infection is often occult. Antibiotic therapy, arthrocentesis under low pressure, and joint immobilization are recommended for patients in the acute stage. The common sequela is osteoarthritis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Infectious / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Infectious / pathology
  • Arthritis, Infectious / surgery*
  • Arthroscopy
  • Drainage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paracentesis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Staphylococcal Infections / drug therapy
  • Staphylococcal Infections / pathology
  • Staphylococcal Infections / surgery*
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders / drug therapy
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders / pathology
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorders / surgery*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents