Most people think of whiplash injury as a neck injury, but the impact of whiplash can go beyond your neck. Many people develop other injuries and conditions as a result of whiplash injuries. One common injury that occurs because of whiplash is temporomandibular joint disorders (called either TMJ or TMD).

If you experienced a whiplash injury and now suspect you might have TMJ, Fort Atkinson TMJ dentist Dr. Jennifer Stafford can help. She can diagnose your TMJ and get you an effective TMJ treatment to reduce or eliminate TMJ symptoms. 

man holding his neck in pain while in the car

What Is a Whiplash Injury?

Whiplash injury occurs when your head is suddenly whipped forward and then back. This puts excessive stress on the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue of the neck. This stress causes injury that makes it hard for your neck to function properly. Until fully healed, you might experience whiplash symptoms like:

  • Neck pain
  • Difficulty or pain when moving the neck 
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the shoulder or upper back
  • Tingling or numbness in your arms
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

If you noticed that several of these whiplash symptoms overlap with common symptoms of TMJ, you’re on to something. The two conditions are closely related, and it’s likely that many people who experience a whiplash injury will develop TMJ. 

What Causes Whiplash

Whiplash occurs whenever your neck is subjected to a sudden force that triggers the extension of the neck tissues. Whiplash does not necessarily involve a blow to the head–you can get whiplash even if your head didn’t touch anything during an accident. However, a blow to the head can also cause whiplash. 

Among the most common causes of whiplash are:

  • Traffic accidents
  • Biking accidents
  • Sports accidents
  • Violence, including domestic violence

With these common causes, whiplash injuries are very common. About 2 million Americans experience a whiplash injury every year. 

Whiplash-Related TMJ

The same forces that cause whiplash can cause TMJ. Your jawbone hangs loose on your body, held in place only by your temporomandibular joints. When you experience the sudden forces that cause whiplash, your jaw also gets pulled out of place, and the joint structures get stretched and strained. This can lead to joint pain, displacement of the cushioning disc in the joint, muscle pain, and more effects of TMJ. 

You don’t have to hit your jaw to develop TMJ. It’s the stressful forces of sudden acceleration and deceleration that cause TMJ in this instance. However, hitting your jaw can also contribute to TMJ. 

TMJ is very common among people who experience a whiplash injury. According to research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), about a third of people with whiplash injuries develop TMJ

TMJ Symptoms Can Develop Later

People often think that if they don’t develop TMJ symptoms right after the accident, then they’re in the clear. That’s not the case. In the JADA study, the follow-up period was one year, so it’s possible for TMJ symptoms to develop much later than your accident. 

For many people, dysfunction develops within a month of the accident, but this isn’t a firm deadline. It’s also possible that your TMJ symptoms only become clear as other whiplash symptoms resolve. 

Whiplash-Related TMJ May Require Treatment

Many cases of TMJ are minor and transitory, not requiring professional care. However, whiplash-related TMJ might be different. 

The JADA research also showed that TMJ might be more persistent than other whiplash injuries. One year after their accident, about one in five people reported that TMJ was their main complaint related to the accident. 

Other studies show that TMJ symptoms may be for life. In one study with a 15-year follow-up, people with whiplash injury showed more TMJ symptoms than controls for the entire 15-year period.  

You can’t just wait for TMJ symptoms to resolve. If you have persistent TMJ after a whiplash injury, it’s time to talk to a Fort Atkinson TMJ dentist about treatment. 

TMJ Symptoms to Watch For

Although whiplash and TMJ have many overlapping symptoms, there are some that are more likely to occur in people who have TMJ rather than whiplash. These symptoms include:

  • Locked jaw or limited jaw mobility
  • Jaw sounds like popping or clicking on jaw movement
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Ringing in the ears

If you have these symptoms, talk to a Fort Atkinson TMJ dentist to receive a detailed exam and accurate diagnosis. 

You should also talk to a TMJ dentist if your whiplash symptoms aren’t resolving with your whiplash treatment. 

TMJ Relief in Fort Atkinson

If you have developed TMJ after a whiplash or other traumatic injury, let Fort Atkinson TMJ dentist Dr. Jennifer Staffor help. She has experience performing accurate diagnoses and providing relief using nonsurgical, drug-free treatment options. 

Please call (920) 563-7323 or use our online contact form to request an appointment at Bite Align, located in Fort Atkinson, near Johnson Bank, and across the street from Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts.