Can a Car Crash Cause TMJ?

Young driver injured in car crash suffering from tmj and has jaw pain.

The violent impact of a car crash puts tremendous stress on your body, including your muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These soft tissue injuries are sometimes difficult to detect, but they can be just as painful as more obvious injuries.

One of the most commonly overlooked types of car accident injuries is damage to the muscle of the jaw forming the temporomandibular joints or TMJ. If you have jaw or ear pain after a crash, you may have a TMJ injury. If the accident in which you were injured was caused by another motorist, the Indiana car accident lawyers at Truitt Law Offices can help you seek full compensation.

Our Fort Wayne personal injury attorneys have been helping car accident injury victims for more than 40 years. Our law firm has recovered millions of dollars for our clients. Contact our office for your free initial consultation.

What Is TMJ?

Your temporomandibular joints, or TMJ, connect your jawbone to your skull. They sit just in front of and below each of your ears. They are essential to your ability to eat, speak, and make facial expressions.

When someone says they have TMJ, they are referring to pain in these joints. The official medical term is temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Car accidents are not the only cause of TMJ injuries, though they are one of the more common causes.

There are three categories of TMJ injuries:

  • Myofascial pain – Pain or discomfort in the muscles that control your jaw function. Some people with myofascial pain from a TMJ injury in a car accident also experience pain or discomfort in the muscles of their neck and shoulders.
  • Internal derangement of the joint – This type of TMJ injury occurs when the disc that serves as a cushion between the skull and lower jaw is displaced in a car accident, typically a rear end accident.
  • Inflammatory joint disease – This occurs when something causes the joints in the body to become inflamed, leading to pain and discomfort. It often leads to arthritis or synovitis. Synovitis is inflammation of the synovial membrane that lines a joint. Any inflammation of the TMJ can be extremely painful.

Can a Car Accident Make TMJ Worse?

If you’re already suffering from a TMJ disorder and you’re involved in a car accident, the crash may very well aggravate the TMJ disorder. The force from a car crash can cause the joints to become further inflamed.

This is especially common in rear-end accidents. The whiplash effect of having your head thrown forward and then back puts intense pressure on your lower jaw muscles. This motion pulls the jaw open and specifically puts pressure on the area of the skull where the jaw connects to the upper head area. Basically, the skull and jaw experience opposing forces, as a result of the whiplash motion which can aggravate an existing TMJ injury.

The impact of having your head hit the dashboard, steering wheel , or windshield also can aggravate an existing TMJ injury and cause additional damage.

Can a Car Accident Cause Jaw Pain?

A rear-end car accident can cause whiplash and lead to a dislocated jaw and intense pain.

Striking the jaw on the vehicle’s interior can lead to a TMJ disorder. Many people clench their jaws as they’re bracing for an accident, which puts pressure on the TMJ even before the moment of impact, making an injury more likely.

How Long Does It Take for TMJ to Go Away?

The recovery time from a TMJ injury depends on the severity of the injury. If the injury is minor, it may go away after just a few weeks. However, a more serious injury may require extensive treatment, prolonging the recovery process.

Some of the potential treatment options for a TMJ injury include:

  • Gently massaging the injured area and surrounding tissues
  • Applying heat or cold to the affected area
  • Wearing a protective mouthguard, known as a splint or appliance
  • Anti-inflammatory medication, as long as it does not contain steroids
  • Physical therapy exercises to strengthen damaged muscles in the jaw
  • Corrective surgery

What Should I Do If I Have Injured My Jaw in a Car Accident?

If your jaw or the area around your ears hurts after a car accident, that may be a sign that you’ve suffered a TMJ injury. If you suspect you have a TMJ injury, check for other symptoms besides pain in the jaw. Other signs and symptoms of a TMJ injury include:

    • Feeling like your jaw is locked in place, making it challenging to open, close, or move your mouth
    • Headaches and migraines
    • Discomfort when eating, biting, or talking
    • A clicking or popping sound when you move your jaw
    • Clogged or painful ears
    • Sensitive teeth
    • Ringing in your ears (also known as tinnitus)
  • See a doctor as soon as you can – Seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible and tell the doctor you were in a car accident. . If you’re diagnosed with a TMJ disorder, follow your doctor’s orders precisely. Early treatment can help minimize the effects of a TMJ injury and shorten your recovery time
  • Keep your medical records – You’ll need proof of your injuries as well as evidence detailing the cause of those injuries if you want to recover any compensation from the other driver.
  • Save evidence from the accident scene – If you took photos, identified any potential witnesses, or received a copy of the police accident report, make sure you hold on to it. This evidence will be crucial to proving your claim.
  • Talk to a lawyer right away – A lawyer can help you gather evidence to support your claim, handle communication with any insurance companies, present your demand for compensation and negotiate for a fair settlement, or take your case to court if necessary.

If you have any questions about TMJ injuries and how they relate to car accidents, our attorneys at Truitt Law Offices in Fort Wayne are available to speak with you and review the specifics of your accident. We can help you understand your legal options and whether you have a TMJ injury claim. Get a free initial consultation today by calling our office, communicating with us via live chat, or visiting our contact page.

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About the Author

As an attorney who has practiced law in Northeast Indiana for nearly four decades, Richard Truitt has seen many changes in the way personal injury and wrongful death cases are handled. However, at least one aspect of his work has remained the same. “You always have to listen to your clients, and you have…