Hundreds of thousands of Americans are involved in car accidents every year. While many of the accidents are described as property-damage only, people often experience injuries, with whiplash injuries being among the most common injuries.

With these whiplash injuries can come jaw pain and dysfunction, including temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ). Here’s what you need to know about TMJ after a car accident so you can get effective treatment.

TMJ Is Common After a Car Accident

We don’t know exactly how many people develop TMJ after a car accident. However, research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) says that perhaps one-third of people exposed to whiplash trauma in a car accident will develop TMJ within a year after the accident.

You Don’t Have to Hit Your Jaw

Many people think you have to hit your jaw to get TMJ from a car accident. However, the JADA study focused on whiplash trauma. Whiplash trauma is when your head and neck moves rapidly in response to the car impact. There is no impact to the head, neck, or jaw.

Instead, the damage to the jaw is caused by the stress on the temporomandibular joints, which have to contend with the sudden acceleration of the car impacts.

TMJ Symptoms May Not Appear Immediately

The JADA study noted that TMJ symptoms were often delayed. People did not report these immediately when treated at the hospital, but within a year after treatment.

While symptoms may not appear immediately, they often occur within a month of the accident, according to more recent research.

woman discussing her TMJ/TMD pain with her dentist TMJ Symptoms to Watch for

With symptoms appearing between a month and a year after your accident, it’s important to be vigilant for symptoms that could indicate TMJ. Some of the common TMJ symptoms to watch for include:

  • Locked jaw or limited jaw mobility
  • Clicking or popping when opening or closing mouth
  • Pain in the jaw, neck, or face
  • Migraines and other headaches
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Vertigo
  • Anxiety

People who develop TMJ after an accident most likely develop pain in the trigeminal region of the face (everything below the nose, but up to the temples on the side of the head). People with TMJ related to whiplash report more symptoms than other TMJ patients, and are more likely to have symptoms like limited jaw opening, headaches, and stress.

TMJ Symptoms Won’t Just Go Away

Most common cases of TMJ are temporary and will resolve on their own with a small amount of home care. However, this is not the case for TMJ related to car accidents. One study with 15-year follow-up showed that those who experienced whiplash trauma continued to have elevated TMJ symptoms throughout the entire period.

If you develop TMJ symptoms after a car accident, you can’t count on them to resolve on their own or under home care. It’s important to seek professional treatment.

Accurate Diagnosis of TMJ Is Complicated

At the Massa Dental Center in Naples, FL, we focus on achieving an accurate diagnosis to help people get effective treatment for their TMJ symptoms. After talking about your medical history, TMJ dentist Dr. James Massa will perform a comprehensive dental exam.

First, he will feel the jaw joints and muscles while you open and close your jaw. This helps him monitor the function of your jaw structures. He will ask you about subjective symptoms as well, such as pain, and what you might be hearing and feeling.

Then Dr. Massa will use advanced imaging technology to get a better picture of the jaw structures and how the accident might have impacted them. Common imaging techniques include digital x-rays, and our VaTech CBCT, which constructs a 3D image of all the jaw structures.

Dr. Massa takes detailed measurements of your jaw motion while measuring jaw tension and tracking jaw sounds using our K7 or Biopak technology. Relaxing jaw muscles with ULF-TENS removes the habitual corrections your body has adopted to try to compensate for dislocation, injury, and pain. This reveals your jaw’s ideal function, as well as its optimal resting position.

Effective Treatment Is Possible

Many people with TMJ see multiple doctors about their symptoms before talking to a dentist about the problem. When people visit our office for TMJ problems, they are often frustrated with previous treatment and aren’t optimistic about possible results.

However, Dr. Massa can use the detailed information from the clinical examination to design an effective treatment plan for TMJ. This could include a mandibular orthotic or epigenetic dental appliance.

Help for TMJ Symptoms in Naples, FL

Are you experiencing TMJ symptoms after a car accident in the Naples, FL, area? We are ready to help you at the Massa Dental Center. Please call (239) 597-7333 or contact us online today to request an appointment.