If you have jaw pain after a car accident, it may be one of the symptoms of whiplash. The sudden acceleration deceleration in a car accident causes hyperflexion and hyperextension in the neck. This whipping motion can also affect the jaw, causing TMJ disc displacement, strain of the TMJ ligaments, and injury to the TMJ muscles. Jaw pain after a car accident needs to be taken seriously because it is a risk factor for developing a chronic TMJ pain disorder. Here’s what you need to know about the causes and treatment of jaw pain after a car accident.
Jaw injury can also result from release of the air bag in a car, if your hands are on the steering wheel in the 10:00 and 2:00 position causing injury to your arms, the airbag striking your face, or causing your arms and hands to strike your face and jaw.
Jaw Pain After A Car Accident
People can have jaw pain after a car accident even if their jaw is not directly injured. The culprit is the whipping motion that happens with sudden acceleration /deceleration in a car accident (hence the term “whiplash”). Another name for whiplash is neck sprain or neck strain. A parallel injury can happen in the jaw joint, where the jaw joint and muscles become sprained or strained (called “jaw and muscle sprain/strain”, or JAMSS).
How do we know that the neck and TMJ injuries in whiplash are associated? The first proof is the frequency of jaw symptoms after whiplash injury. One investigation of the symptoms of whiplash found that jaw and face pain was present in 88% of whiplash injuries, which is almost as high as the other cardinal symptoms of whiplash (neck pain, shoulder pain, and tension headaches). Here are the common jaw-related symptoms after whiplash injury:
Resting jaw pain
Jaw fatigue with eating
Jaw pain with chewing or yawning
Altered sensation in the jaw-face region
Clicking sounds in the TMJ
Another proof that whiplash and TMJ disorders are connected is found in imaging studies. In a 2021 study in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of people with TMJ disorders were evaluated, and characteristic patterns of abnormalities were found, including changes to the TMJ disc and atrophy of the jaw muscles (specifically the lateral pterygoid muscle). These findings were distinct from people who had non-trauma related TMJ disorders.
Finally, there is increasing evidence of a close functional relationship between the jaw and the neck. Because of this functional coupling, neck trauma can disrupt the normal functioning of the jaw. Furthermore, the pain pathways of the jaw and neck are intertwined, such that when the brain becomes sensitized to pain signals from the neck, the pain pathways in the jaw region can become hypersensitive as well.
From Acute To Chronic TMJ Pain
Almost 50% of people who have acute symptoms of whiplash develop long-term disabilities. This statistic is nearly replicated in cases of jaw sprain and strain, where there is a strong tendency for untreated jaw pain to evolve into a chronic pain disorder.
This increased rate of transition to chronic symptoms is thought to be due to a phenomenon called central sensitization. “Chronic TMJ disorders start with pain from the initial injury and the guarding response of the muscles. These two factors prime neurons in the central nervous system, causing them to be hyperexcitable. Nerve signals in the central nervous system then become amplified, causing hypersensitivity and increased pain to normal touch and motion in the region”, explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, an orofacial pain specialist.
Jaw Pain Relief
The tendency for acute jaw pain to become chronic makes it critical to treat jaw pain after a car accident promptly and allow two to four weeks for healing. A multimodal approach to jaw pain relief is optimal and includes:
Jaw Rest: Eating a soft food diet and avoiding chewy foods and chewing gum are important rest measures.
Physical Therapy: Gentle exercises to increase jaw range of motion are considered first-line therapy for jaw sprain/strain injuries.
Hot/Cold Therapy: Alternating hot and cold therapy will provide pain relief, decrease swelling, and improve muscle extensibility.
Splinting: Just like a neck brace for whiplash symptoms in the neck, an intraoral splint like the Quicksplint helps support the jaw and relax the guarding reflex of jaw muscles after injury.
All these components are included in the Speed2Treat Home Healing Kit. The kit was designed to optimize prompt and comprehensive self-care treatment of jaw sprain/strain injuries. Don’t let your jaw pain after a car accident turn into chronic TMJ pain. Get jaw pain relief today with the Speed2Treat Home Healing Kit!