What is the Connection Between Car Accidents, Slip and Falls and TMJ Disorder?
As a personal injury law firm that handles many car accidents, slip and falls, trip and falls and other types of injury cases, we have certainly seen various injuries and trauma result in our clients complaining of pain to their jaw. Sometimes that pain is temporary (lasting only a few days or weeks), and certainly other times the pain worsens or becomes chronic.
Studies have shown that direct trauma to the jaw is not necessary for the development of TMJ disorder / TMD. Studies have linked whiplash (very violent movement of the head, neck, and by definition, the jaw) in a car accident or violent fall, to TMJ Disorder. Certainly, the jaw may make direct contact with an airbag or steering wheel, the trauma of which can lead to TMJ Disorder.
In a slip and fall or trip and fall, a head injury may also result in TMJ disorder.
What is TMJ?
The Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is essentially the hinge where you jaw moves (up and down and, to a lesser degree, side to side). The TM joints are essential for chewing, yawning, speaking. You can feel the TMJ in action if you put your fingers near your ears and make any jaw movement. See the provided diagram to the right.
When someone says that they have TMJ, what they really mean is that they have what is medically referred to as: TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ Disorder).
TMD has a number of primary causes, malocclusion (improper bite); arthritis of the TMJ from getting older; and injuries such as those sustained in car accidents or slip and falls.
Symptoms of TMD / TMJ Disorder
Those with TMD /TMJ Disorder will feel pain in the jaw area – sometimes while the jaw is motionless, other times when opening the mouth, biting, or other jaw movements. Some people will hear their jaw click, others will develop associated headaches and pain near the ear (remember, the TMJ is immediately adjacent to our ears).
Which Dental Specialty Treats TMJ Disorder?
According to the TMJ Association there is no one specialist for TMJ disorder and there are over 50 variations of treatment of TMJ Disorder and no agreed-upon diagnoses technique. So the first step would be to seek diagnoses from your dentist. Your dentist will likely conduct x-rays and measure your bite alignment. Your dentist will also listen for clicks and check for tenderness/pain elicited when touching your temporomandibular joints. Ultimately, if the pain persists your dentist may refer you to a maxillofacial surgeon who may require MRIs or CT scans.
Treatments range from the very conservative (advil/motrin, ice packs, night guards), to ultrasound / radiofrequency / electrical stimulation therapies, to more invasive procedures (trigger point injections and surgery – although surgery is rare).
After a car accident or slip and fall, it is easy to assume jaw pain is not related to the accident. However, you would be doing yourself a disservice by failing to tell your doctor and your personal injury lawyer. First, and most importantly, early treatment for almost any injury tends to result in better long-term results – so you should tell your doctors about everything that hurts you because you care about your health and want to make the best possible recovery. Secondly, suffering in silence does nothing to help your personal injury case. By failing to complain about real pain that did not exist (or was not as bad) prior to the subject accident, obtaining a diagnosis and subsequent treatment, you are leaving money on the table.