Many people think of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders as something you get from grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw – often from stress – or as the result of a dental issue like an irregular bite. TMJ disorders (often referred to as TMD as well as just TMJ) generally involve inflammation and irritation of the jaw joints and the muscles and ligaments around them.
People who suffer from TMD are often in constant pain. In addition to pain in their jaw and face, they may suffer earaches and ringing in the ears, since the TMJs are located just in front of the ears. They often suffer from headaches. Eating and even speaking can become painful. Lockjaw is a common symptom, as is a popping sound when the jaw is opened wide.
How car crashes can cause TMJ
Trauma, including some kinds of injuries suffered in car crashes, can also cause TMD. Whiplash is one of the most common crash-related injuries that can bring on TMD. When a person’s head moves forward suddenly and with force, they often open their mouth, which places pressure on these joints. Even hitting an airbag can cause whiplash – and TMD.
Like some other injuries that result from collisions, the symptoms of TMD often don’t present until later – sometimes years later. Even then, people may not connect that problem to that crash they were in. They (and their dentist) may think it stems from their bite or arthritis that sets in as they age.
There is a range of treatments from which to choose. Which one is best depends in part on how serious the condition is. Everything from ultrasound treatments to injections (including Botox) and more can be used to treat the condition. If nothing else works, surgery may be the only way to relieve the pain.
Rather than wait until long after your settlement with the insurance company or at-fault driver, it may be wise to have a dentist or doctor run some tests – particularly if you’ve suffered whiplash or are otherwise suffering pain around your face or even your neck and shoulders. X-rays, scans and MRIs can detect damage to the TMJ. The more thoroughly you’re checked out for by medical professionals to ensure that you know the full extent of your injuries, the better your chances are of maximizing your claim.