A temporomandibular joint (TMJ) injury is one of the most common related to rear-end collisions, but has received very little attention until very recently. The TMJ is described as a ball and socket arrangement so that the jaw is able to open and close. This fragile construction is especially sensitive to injury during traumatic car crashes. Furthermore, pain is more commonly attributed to head or neck injuries, in general. Nevertheless, TMJ disorders are progressive, and if left untreated, can increase impairment over the long run.
TMJ injuries that are caused by rear-end collisions occur as a result of whiplash. For example, when there is a sudden impact from behind, the head can snap in many different directions. When this happens very quickly the neck muscles cannot relax and therefore hold the jaw still. In the meantime, the head is forced backwards by an impact and the mouth opens and hyper extends, causing injury to the jaw. Ultimately, the muscles and supporting ligaments in the TMJ are torn, which results in scar formations. It is the scar formations that cause pain to an injured individual.
Unfortunately, few medical and dental practitioners have the specialized training needed to diagnoses TMJ injuries. However, a diagnosis can be made with thorough physical examination, including radiographic surveys. Once a diagnosis is reached, TMJ injuries can be treated through construction of a bite splint, moist heat therapy, trigger point injections, nutritional counseling, and other therapies.