rear ended carIf you notice jaw pain following a fall, blow to the face, or whiplash injury, take it seriously. You may be experiencing the beginning symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder. The longer the damage goes untreated, the worse the condition can get and the more difficult it can be to correct. As soon as you notice symptoms indicating a TMJ complex trauma, you should visit a dental clinic like Michigan Head and Neck Institute right away for TMJ injury diagnosis and treatment.

Understanding the TMJ Complex

The temporomandibular joint is the place where your lower jawbone connects to your skull. The TMJ complex includes the bones of the jaw and skull, the cartilage and other soft tissues that cushion the joint, and the muscles and tendons that move the jaw and hold it in place.
Any one of the structures within the TMJ complex can become inflamed or strained, resulting in pain, difficulty chewing, strange sounds like clicking or popping when you move your jaw, as well as other symptoms. These problems are collectively referred to as temporomandibular disorder or temporomandibular syndrome.

Traumatic Causes of Temporomandibular Disorder

TMD is a mysterious condition that is not yet entirely understood. Sometimes symptoms just show up, and doctors are unable to determine a cause. Other times, symptoms may be caused by arthritis or by habitual actions, such as clenching or grinding your teeth, that put pressure on the TMJ complex over time. In other cases, the disorder can be the result of a TMJ injury or trauma. A trauma is a severe physical injury, often caused by a sudden impact or violent motion.
A TMJ injury may fall into one of the following three broad categories:

  • Stretching of the TMJ Joint
  • A blow to the head or jaw
  • Whiplash

Specific Ways in Which TMJ Injuries Can Occur

Stretching your TMJ for an extended period of time can put strain on the muscles and tendons of the joint, which can cause them to become inflamed. For example, if you had to keep your mouth open for half an hour or more during an extensive dental procedure, that could cause stretching and straining of TMJ tendons and muscles.
Symptoms of TMD may manifest after a blow to the side of the head, such as can occur from a punch or slap, or a blow to the jaw, such as might result if you fell down and struck your chin on the ground. Sudden impacts such as this can cause several types of injuries that can lead to TMJ symptoms:

  • Forcing your upper and lower teeth together, putting pressure on the TMJ
  • Dislocating your jaw, which can force the joint out of alignment and stretch the soft tissues of the TMJ complex
  • Fracturing or otherwise injuring the top portion of the mandible bone, known as the condyle

Whiplash is caused by forceful forward-and-back movement of the head and neck. It is commonly caused by rear-end auto collisions. Whiplash can cause the bone between the skull and neck to shift out of alignment, which in turn affects the jaw. Symptoms of whiplash may not show up for hours or even days after the accident.

When to See a TMJ Specialist

It’s never a bad idea to seek medical attention after an accident, even in the absence of symptoms, just to ensure there’s no damage. If you do have symptoms such as pain or difficulty moving your jaw, you should see a TMJ specialist as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can help prevent further damage by minimizing the movement of your jaw. Eat soft foods that are easy to chew and speak only when it is necessary.

Experience with TMJ Injury Problems

Michigan Head and Neck Institute has been treating TMJ problems for over 30 years. Call (586) 573-0438 to schedule a consultation.