Jaw Pain After A Car Accident

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!

More Articles

Can bruxism cause headaches? Bruxism is the involuntary grinding, gnashing, or clenching of teeth and it can happen during sleep or while you’re awake. When this grinding or clenching becomes associated with headache symptoms, it’s referred to as a “bruxism headache”. Here’s what you need to know about the different kinds of headaches associated with bruxism and what you can do to get relief.
New jaw pain after dental injection may be from nerve damage, but it’s more likely to be a warning sign of an underlying TMJ injury. This is because nerve damage from an injection is extremely rare, and if it occurs, the presenting symptoms are numbness and tingling, rather than jaw pain. A more common cause of new jaw pain after a dental procedure is sprain/strain to the jaw joint and muscles.
There are many different types of temporomandibular (TMJ) disorders, so the best mouth guard for TMJ pain depends on your underlying condition. There are two major sources of TMJ pain; the joint itself and the surrounding muscles. It’s important to know the difference, because the choice for the best TMJ mouth guard is different between the two.
Why do SSRIs cause jaw clenching? While the exact mechanism is unknown, it appears that SSRIs trigger jaw clenching because of their effect on the level of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain. These neurotransmitters control mood, but they also contribute to movement regulation.

Are You Provider or Consumer?