We have all heard about TMJ, also known as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder. For some time, TMJ was considered a disorder which affected only those with prior teeth or jaw issues. A person could expect to have some sort of TMJ pain if they had chipped or missing teeth, or if they were prone to grinding their teeth at night. But there is actually another, lesser known, cause. For a surprising number of individuals, TMJ pain did not begin until after they experienced a traumatic incident. According to statistics published in the Journal of the American Dental Association in 1990, 44% to 99% of TMJ problems are caused by trauma. By trauma, we mean an injury as obvious as a blow to the jaw with a fist or something as subtle as a whiplash injury with direct trauma to the head or jaw. With that being said, the most common form of such trauma is a car accident.
What is TMJ, and when should I be concerned?
Your temporomandibular joint is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew, and yawn. For most, this joint functions normally, but for some this joint can become inflamed or swollen, causing a wide range of issues. Most attribute this pain or inflammation to arthritis, stress, clenching of teeth, etc. But for far too many, the symptoms of TMJ did not begin until after a car accident or similar traumatic event. If you have experienced pain in the jaw or facial area, have had trouble opening and closing your mouth, or have a jaw that seems to click or get stuck, and you have recently been in an automobile accident, you may be experiencing this pain because of that accident.
How can a car accident affect my jaw?
You may be asking yourself how it is possible to get TMJ from an auto accident. The answer is quite simple. When a person is involved in a car accident, their body is exposed to various movements which it would not normally encounter. The body is pushed and pulled in different directions, and the effect this has on the body’s joints can be tremendous. While it may be hard to believe, the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, can be one of the joints affected. Most people believe that in order to have TMJ related symptoms, you must have hit your head or jaw during an accident, but this is not so. While it is possible that you are experiencing your TMJ pain because you hit your head or jaw on an airbag or steering wheel during the course of the accident, direct trauma IS NOT NECESSARY for a whiplash injury to severely damage the TMJ. During a car accident, it is common for those involved to experience whiplash. Whiplash takes place when a car is hit suddenly, usually from the rear, and an individual’s head is forced in various directions. For example, when sitting at a traffic light and a car is struck from the rear by another car, the heads of the occupants in the first vehicle are thrust backwards towards the rear. As the head is thrown backwards, inertia causes the lower jaw or mandible to remain where it was in space for about 250 milliseconds (about 1/4 of a second). This violent motion produces stretching and/or tearing of the ligaments and connective tissues in one or both TMJs. As a result, swelling and discomfort usually ensue. Simple everyday tasks, such as eating and talking, can become a chore. You may also find that your symptoms come and go, or only flare up when you perform certain activities such as eating.
How common is it?
According to The Journal of the American Dental Association, a study performed in 2007 suggested that one in three people who are exposed to whiplash trauma are at risk of developing delayed TMJ symptoms. Unfortunately, most people who experience symptoms of TMJ and who have been involved in a car accident never associate one with the other. Again, it is important to understand that even if it has been months since your accident, your TMJ pain may still be directly related to the accident. You should never assume that the two are not related. Various patients have reported having TMJ pain even up to a year after an automobile accident. If you have been to a dentist or doctor, be sure to mention that you have recently been in an accident. Often times a patient may fail to inform a doctor that they have been in an accident because they believe that the accident is insignificant. In reality it is just the opposite. Medical professionals know the affects that an auto accident has on a person’s jaw, and they will be better able to assist you in the long run if they know all the facts.
What should I do?
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If you seem to be having any of the symptoms of TMJ and have been involved in a car accident or traumatic event, please do not hesitate to call the personal injury attorneys at the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA for help. The medical bills and other expenses that follow a severe injury such as TMJ can be stressful and overwhelming. The attorneys at the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA are on hand to assist and look forward to helping you get back to being pain free. Call to schedule a free consultation and evaluation today. The number to dial is (727) 451-6900.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
 Center for Headache, TMJ, & Sleep Disorders
 Delayed temporomandibular joint pain and dysfunction induced by whiplash trauma : A controlled prospective study. Hanna Salé, DDS, Annika Isberg, DDS, PhD