OBJECTIVES: To study the validity of both rheumatological and orthodontic examinations and ultrasound (US) as screening methods for early diagnosis of TMJ arthritis against the gold standard MRI. METHODS: Thirty consecutive juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) patients were included in this pilot study. Rheumatological and orthodontic examinations as well as US were performed within 1 month of the MRI in a blinded fashion. Joint effusion and/or increased contrast enhancement of synovium or bone were considered signs of active arthritis on MRI. RESULTS: A total of 19/30 (63%) patients and 33/60 (55%) joints had signs of TMJ involvement on MRI. This was associated with condylar deformity in 9/19 (47%) patients and 15/33 (45%) joints. Rheumatological, orthodontic and US examinations correctly diagnosed 11 (58%), 9 (47%) and 6 (33%) patients, respectively, with active TMJ arthritis, but misdiagnosed 8 (42%), 10 (53%) and 12 (67%) patients, respectively, as having no signs of inflammation. The best predictor for active arthritis on MRI was a reduced maximum mouth opening. CONCLUSION: None of the methods tested was able to reliably predict the presence or absence of MRI-proven inflammation in the TMJ in our cohort of JIA patients. US was the least useful of all methods tested to exclude active TMJ arthritis.