The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is the hinge joint connecting the lower jaw to the skull. Pain in this area is sometimes referred to as TMJ or TMD (temporomandibular disorder).
TMJ pain is most commonly associated with stress, grinding and clenching the teeth. It is being discovered, however, that TMJ symptoms can be a delayed condition as a result of suffering from whiplash in a car accident.
How does whiplash affect you jaw?
TMJ pain can be felt in the areas around the jaw, ear, neck, face and head. Other symptoms can include limited jaw movement, clicking, popping or grating noises in the joint, and tenderness when chewing.
Some of the same muscle groups that are responsible for chewing, opening and closing the mouth and holding the jaw in place can be severely traumatized in a whiplash scenario. The jaw may not have suffered a direct physical injury in a car accident, but the rapid flexion and extension of the head and neck (whiplash) that occurs can cause pain in muscles that lie in close proximity or overlap. Pain felt in one area of the body that originates from another is called referral pain.
Don’t let your jaw be overlooked
In the case of TMJ pain due to whiplash, the muscles of the face and jaw (temporalis, masseter, medial and lateral pterygoid) are not typically the first muscles to be treated. Oftentimes, there is a delay in diagnosing and treating a TMJ dysfunction after a car accident. The main focus tends to be in isolating and treating the scalenes, the sternocleidomastoid, the trapezius and the levator scapula, all major muscles in the neck, shoulders and upper back.
Additionally, injury to the disk located between the jaw bone and the cranial socket in the skull can occur. A heavy blow or whiplash can dislocate the joint to the point that the disk can no longer act as a shock absorber. In the same way that neck and shoulder injuries can refer pain into the jaw, face and head, an injured or inflamed disc in the temporomandibular joint can produce pain in the neck and upper back.
Do you have TMJ?
The good news is TMJ can be treated by a dentist or TMJ specialist. If you think you may be suffering from TMJ, please take my TMJ questionnaire and I’ll reply with a free, no obligations diagnostic recommendation.