TMJ is a complex condition that can be rooted in a number of different causes. Maybe you’ve been clenching or grinding your teeth while you sleep for years, slowly damaging the joints of your jaw over time. Or maybe your jaw simply developed to be misaligned, causing symptoms that worsened over time.
One possible cause of TMJ is trauma to the jaw, damaging the fragile temporomandibular joints and leading to symptoms like jaw pain, headaches, tinnitus, and more. That trauma could come from many places — but could it come from a car accident?
Car Accidents and the Jaw
There are a number of different health problems that can result from collisions, but whiplash is one of the more common ones. Whiplash is particularly likely in rear-end collisions, when the force of impact can cause a driver or passenger’s head to swing violently back and forth, causing a neck injury that can take months to heal. But the neck isn’t the only part of the body at risk of whiplash: during that back and forth motion, it’s also possible for the mouth to be pushed open, putting intense pressure on the jaw joints.
Additionally, if the occupant of the vehicle hits their jaw on the dashboard or steering wheel, this direct trauma can cause injuries to the jaw joints as well. But while there is certainly a way for car accidents to result in TMJ, is it common? That’s a question that remains up for debate.
In 2009, researchers reviewed data from nearly fifty years of car accidents and found that a relationship between car accidents and TMJ couldn’t be proved. Another study claimed that whiplash couldn’t be provably linked to “TMJ pain and clicking,” although of course those two symptoms do not fully encompass TMJ as a disorder, so those results should be taken with a grain of salt.
In opposition to this, a 2007 study found patients with whiplash were five times more likely to have TMJ than the control group. So, do car accidents cause TMJ? The data is inconclusive; more research will need to be done to determine whether or not there’s a correlation between car accidents and TMJ. The truth is that we don’t fully understand TMJ, not even to the point of knowing whether it’s one condition or several. Until we truly understand the nature of TMJ, it’s unlikely that we’ll know exactly what causes it.
Regardless, TMJ Requires Treatment
No matter what caused it, TMJ is a serious disorder that requires effective treatment to reduce pain and discomfort, and prevent more damage. Not only can TMJ treatment alleviate symptoms like jaw pain, headaches, tinnitus, tooth wear, vertigo, and more, it can protect the fragile temporomandibular joint from the further harm that untreated symptoms can cause.
To treat TMJ, your dentist can first perform a TENS treatment, which is a sort of electrical massage, to relax the muscles of the jaw into their ideal, healthy position. This will allow your dentist to determine what treatment will best retrain your jaw to rest in that position, relieving tension, alleviating pain, and allowing your jaw to heal.