What to Do About TMJ Pain After an Accident

Sep 12, 2021

You’ve probably heard of whiplash. It’s the injury that occurs due to sudden back and forth movement, often during a car crash. Most of us associate whiplash with injury to the neck, which is most common, but did you know it can also impact your jaw? This injury can often go overlooked after a car accident, but it can be painful and cause lifelong problems without proper treatment. If you’ve recently been in an accident and are experiencing jaw pain, here’s when to consider TMJ injury and what steps to take.

What Is a TMJ Disorder?

The lower jaw joint that attaches your skull to the jaw, right next to each ear, is known as the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. We use this joint when we talk, laugh, chew, yawn, or even brush our teeth. Usually, the joint is used over 2,000 on a given day, more than any other. Like most joints, the TMJ works in conjunction with muscles in the body in order to function properly.

You may have heard TMJ referred to as a disorder on its own, but these are actually known as TMJ disorders. This can be any collection of symptoms that cause pain in the TMJ or cause it to lose function. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, there are three classifications of injuries to this joint:

  • Myofascial pain resulting from injuries to the muscles
  • Internal displacement of the disc between the lower jaw and skull
  • Degenerative arthritic joint disorders

The first two are common after car accidents that result in whiplash. When the victim’s head is moved rapidly, it places force on the TMJ and lower jaw, sometimes forcing the mouth open or causing an impact. The muscles in the neck that may be injured can also have an impact on the jaw. Blunt trauma to the jaw is also common.

Identifying TMJ Pain and Disorders

TMJ injuries can manifest in a number of ways outside of simple pain in the jaw. Pain may be referred to other areas of the face, and it is common to experience earaches or pain in the ear. You may also notice a painful clicking or snapping of the jaw, difficulty opening and closing the mouth, or a “locking” feeling when you do open the mouth. When it is associated with whiplash, neck pain along with these symptoms can be indicative as well. While these symptoms can be mild, because of how often we use our TMJ, the effects can be severe. An inability to talk or eat has a serious impact on daily life and it’s important to avoid getting to that point.

Keep in mind that, like many car accident injuries, TMJ pain may not be immediately apparent after an accident. Without direct trauma to the jaw, it could take hours or days for symptoms to appear, or you may not think of your jaw pain as being related to the crash. Proactive treatment is always the best option after an accident, but if that isn’t possible, seek care as soon as you notice these signs.

When you visit a chiropractor, they will take into account your symptoms and their own observations to diagnose a TMJ disorder. They may use diagnostic imaging in order to determine what type of injury has occurred and how severe it is. This will help them to create a treatment plan best suited to your condition.

Treating TMJ Disorders and Pain

Like whiplash, most cases of TMJ injury resolve with fairly minimal intervention. Ibuprofen for pain, massage, stretching, and rest are all important steps to manage an injury. In this case, rest may mean eating soft foods and avoiding excessive chewing in order to give the jaw time to heal. If possible, you may even avoid talking too much for a short time.

If the condition isn’t able to be resolved with simple steps like these, you may be referred to a dentist or orthodontist who can address any serious impact to the jaw. A small number of TMJ disorders will require outpatient surgery, and an even smaller number are eligible for a joint replacement.

Your best chance of an easy recovery is to seek care immediately after your accident, whether you are experiencing symptoms or not. At AICA Jonesboro, our car accident specialists can evaluate you for injuries such as whiplash and related TMJ disorders before you are even in pain. Call us today to begin your proactive treatment plan.


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