Got TMJ After a Car Accident? Here’s What You Should Know
Being in a car accident is terrifying. The horrible sound of metal crunching on metal.
The screeching sound of cars breaking. Then there’s the aftermath when all parties involved check themselves to make sure everything is okay.
And if you’ve ever been in an accident before, you know how easy it is to get hurt or injured. And while it’s true that the slower the speed, the fewer deaths, and injuries occur, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be permanently injured.
Common injuries from car accidents are normally located in the head and neck, spinal, back, and facial areas of the victim. Common facial injuries include dental damage, cuts and bruises, and even TMJ.
If you find you have TMJ after a car accident, there is something you can do about it. Keep reading to learn what steps to take.
What Is TMJ After A Car Accident?
TMJ, no matter how you acquired it, is short for “temporomandibular joints”. These joints are important because they connect your jawbone to your skull.
This connection plays a critical role in providing you with the ability to eat, speak, and even make facial expressions.
As a result, your temporomandibular joints are frequently used. They’re also one of the more complex joints in your body.
You’ll find these joints positioned at the sides of your head near your ear.
How It Occurs After A Car Accident
What causes TMJ after a car accident is a result of whiplash. The soft tissues of the temporomandibular joints are not meant to withstand extreme forces.
Since whiplash most commonly occurs in the neck, an area where the small amount of tissue in your throat and spine are already stressed by the weight of your head.
Whiplash can occur during accidents where a car was traveling as slowly as 9 mph. Whiplash is a common result, especially after a rear-end accident.
And when you’re standing or sitting, your head weighs between 10 to 12 pounds. That’s already a lot of stress being added.
But if you lean forward even by 15 degrees, you add a minimum of 15 pounds to the weight of your head.
Since your jaw is also secured by only soft tissue joints, they also are stressed during an accident. Even if you don’t hit your jaw, it’s possible to suffer damage to those joints.
The result is TMJ but sometimes it can take years for symptoms to arise.
Other Causes Of TMJ
Whiplash isn’t the only cause of TMJ after a car accident. A leading cause of TMJ injury is acute trauma to the jaw and/or muscles. This often occurs during traumatic events like falls, punches, and car accidents.
If you’ve had a previous fracture to your jaw and it never healed properly, the accident can cause further damage. A misaligned bone resulting from an accident can place constant stress on your temporomandibular joint and its surrounding muscles.
Teeth grinding and clenching are also well-known causes of TMJ. If you have previous dental problems or your teeth are aligned, it’s also possible to suffer from TMJ.
Then, of course, there’s stress. A stressed human clenches their facial and jaw muscles. Often the victim isn’t even conscious that they’re doing it.
The Types Of TMJ Injuries
TMJ causes pain and discomfort. How much so depends on the nature of the injury.
They tend to fall into three categories.
There’s myofascial pain where the victim feels pain or discomfort in the muscles that control their jaw function. However, it can also involve muscles in the neck and shoulders.
Myofascial pain is common with people who have been in a car accident.
There’s also internal derangement of the joint. This occurs when the disc that acts as a cushion between the skull and lower jaw gets displaced.
Internal derangement of the joint is also very common injury often seen in serious car accidents.
Lastly, there’s inflammatory joint disease. This type of TMJ often leads to arthritis or synovitis.
Common Symptoms Of TMJ
If you believe you have TMJ after a car accident, it’s important to have a dentist check it out as soon as possible.
Not only can your dentist rule out any other potential problems, they can start treating you right away. And, if you’re planning on seeking compensation as a result of your TMJ after a car accident, you’ll need everything documented to help your case.
Here are some common symptoms of TMJ.
- A clicking sound when opening or closing your mouth, especially when chewing
- Locking of your jaw
- Difficulty or discomfort while chewing or biting
- Tenderness or dull, aching pain in the face, especially when waking
- Persistent headaches
- Ringing in the ear
- Pain in neck, shoulders, and back
- Stuffiness or pain in your sinus area
- Hearing problems
- Sensitive teeth
- Light sensitivity
How They Test For TMJ
If you feel you have TMJ after a car accident but your dentist or doctor doesn’t diagnose you, feel free to consult someone else.
If you have several symptoms, it may require you to use a combination of different therapies such as your PCP, dentist, and even an ear, nose, and throat doctor.
Most often they’ll take an MRI of your jaw area to take a look at what’s happening on the inside.
They’ll also perform a physical exam of your joints and muscles to test for any tenderness. Next, they’ll ask you to slide your teeth from side to side.
Your dentist will ask to view your bite alignment to ensure nothing is off-kilter.
Your dentist or doctor may ask to watch, listen, and feel as your jaw opens and closes. They will also want to take x-rays to check for any abnormalities in your jaw.
Lastly, a doctor or dentist will most likely press on different areas of your head to test for pain and sensitivity.
Typically Recommended Treatment Options
Thankfully, surgery is a last resort to treat TMJ after a car accident. In fact, there are several non-evasive therapies your doctor may choose to prescribe to help alleviate your TMJ symptoms.
Try gently massaging your various jaw muscles and surrounding tissues to help them relax and unclench.
You can also try applying heat or ice to the affected area. Typically, ice is recommended to reduce inflammation directly after the area has been injured but after that, both hot and cold methods work equally well.
Often, it depends on what the patient prefers.
Learn how to manage your stress better. While this can feel really difficult, especially when you’re in a lot of pain, it does help.
Your dentist might fit you with a mouth guard, which are also referred to as splints or appliances.
In some cases, if the trauma has left your teeth unaligned, orthodontics is often a good solution.
Why There’s A Controversy Surrounding TMJ And Car Accidents
Unfortunately, there are skeptics out there who don’t believe that TMJ after a car accident is possible. Instead, they feel it’s merely an opportunity taken on the part of attorneys to obtain more compensation for their clients.
One study stated that, “There is conflicting evidence regarding the effects of whiplash on the development of TMD. Furthermore, because of lack of homogeneity in the study populations and lack of standardization of data collection procedures and outcomes measured, this review cannot conclusively resolve the controversies that exist concerning this relationship.”
But if we look at the approach scientists took to conduct their studies, it’s possible to see that TMJ after a car accident is likely a common occurrence.
Permanent Versus Temporary Injuries And The Courts
If you plan to hire a lawyer because of your TMJ after a car accident, you’ll need to have evidence.
It’s your lawyer’s job to prove that the other person caused the accident which left you with injuries.
Then you need to show proof of the extent of your injuries. Usually, that’s done with your medical and dental records.
Courts and juries base how much they’ll award to a plaintiff on a variety of factors. Who was at fault and how much money was spent on medical bills are just two of those factors.
Then there’s determining whether or not your TMJ is permanent or temporary. A temporary injury will not result in as high of a settlement as a permanent injury will.
How TMJ Can Negatively Affect Your Life
Many people wrongly assume they can handle pain on their own. They also tend to falsely hope that the pain will go away on its own.
But the pain you feel as a result of TMJ from a car accident is real. And it can negatively affect your life in a variety of ways.
Often, it leaves the victim caught off guard and feeling vulnerable at a time when help and support are needed the most.
Here are a few ways TMJ can negatively impact your life.
When your face and/or jaw hurts, it’s difficult to sleep. It’s also difficult to focus on important matters.
Then there are the pain medications typically prescribed for TMJ pain. They affect how you think and feel.
Which means, if you have a career that requires you to speak with others or use the phone often, you’ll have to modify your actions to lessen the strain on your injury.
And that’s if you are able to return to work. Some victims are in so much pain they find they are unable to concentrate or perform their regular duties at work.
A TMJ injury makes it difficult for you to perform basic tasks like eating, swallowing, laughing, and even speaking.
It may be difficult for you to consume certain foods meaning you’ll have to find specialty items you can easily consume. Besides the time and stress of searching for food options, it’s also expensive.
Then there are the hot and cold sensitivities many TMJ sufferers develop. That makes planning and preparing meals even more stressful.
If the injury is severe enough, you may need to see a speech pathologist, even if you aren’t experiencing trouble when speaking. Speech pathologists can teach you exercises to help you regain some mobility in your jaw.
You’ll also find your speech improves as well when working with a speech pathologist.
And if you’re having that much trouble just trying to eat and sleep, forget about trying to do simple chores or handle caregiving duties.
It’s difficult to open your mouth when you have a TMJ injury. Usually, just trying to do so is quite painful.
Which makes it really difficult to even try to get your toothbrush in your mouth. Never mind about trying to floss regularly.
When you are forced to neglect your teeth because of your pain, problems begin to arise. An increase in halitosis, gingivitis, and cavities are often seen in patients with severe TMJ.
Being in pain all day every day starts to wear on you. It doesn’t matter how tough you are.
Physical pain starts to wear you down emotionally and mentally. It’s not uncommon for chronic TMJ victims to develop psychological problems like anxiety or depression.
Some people find that seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist helps then find healthy tricks and tools to help them cope and manage their pain. Therapy also helps them accept their new life circumstances.
Why You Need An Attorney
Since TMJ after a car accident hasn’t been officially proven, it’s not an easy claim to make.
As a result, TMJ claims are routinely ignored by insurance companies. Usually, unless there’s proven direct impact to your jaw, which results in a break, you can expect the insurance company to deny your claim.
However, there are studies showing that one out of every three accident victims suffering from whiplash in car accidents are at risk to develop TMJ pain and discomfort than those who did not incur any whiplash injuries.
We’re experienced with all types of car accidents.
If you have TMJ after a car accident or are experiencing any other type of pain, don’t wait until it’s too late to get the help you need.
You deserve to be compensated for your financial losses, injuries, and pain and suffering.
We provide a free case review. Click here to begin.