Whiplash – What You Must Know About TMJ

In horse and buggy days whiplash was rare. Sure, a horse could bolt and cause a whiplash type reaction on passengers. But, let’s face it-horses rarely spaced out and ran into the buggy in front of them.

Whiplash Defined

One simple definition from Mosby Medical Encyclopedia is: “an injury to the neck vertebrae or their supporting ligaments and muscles. There is pain and stiffness. It usually results from sudden speeding or slowing down, as in a rear-end collision that causes a violent back and forth movement of the head and neck.”

There are many injuries that can be caused in this type of accident. They range from sprain/strain that clears up quickly to spinal cord damage resulting in death. Getting full compensation for whiplash means identifying, and getting each separate injury diagnosed and treated. One very common injury from whiplash is TMJ.

What Is TMJ?

TMJ or Temporo Mandibular Joint syndrome is an abnormal condition with facial pain and poor function of the lower jaw. It is apparently caused by a defective or dislocated temporomandibular joint.

What Are The Symptoms?

According to the TMJ Association: ” TMJ pain is often described as a dull aching pain in the jaw joint and nearby areas, including the ear, which comes and goes.”

Other symptoms can include:

• Being unable to open the mouth comfortably
• Clicking, popping or grating sounds in the jaw joint
• Locking of the jaw when attempting to open the mouth
• Headaches
• A bite that feels uncomfortable or “off”
• Neck, shoulder and back pain
• Swelling on the side of the face

Additional symptoms may include: ringing in the ears, ear pain, decreased hearing, dizziness and vision problems.

Treatment for TMJ

Minor TMJ can sometimes be fixed very quickly by a chiropractor but if this fails you’ll need to see a specialist. (Seeing a specialist will add value to your case so if your chiro can’t fix the problem in a visit or two it’s time to move up to the big leagues.)

A TMJ specialist is usually a dentist who has special training in diagnosing and treating the disorder. The specialist may fit you with a splint. This is a plastic device that fits over your upper and lower teeth–kind of like a mouth guard used in football. This device can reduce grinding and clenching of the teeth. It is often worn at night.

If the splint does not work some dentists may try flushing out the joint. This is done by inserting two needles in the joint, a cleansing solution is pumped in through one and out through the other. Sound painful? Very. Fortunately for you a local anesthesia is used during the process.

This “two needles approach” can also be used to introduce pain medication into the joint.

Cortisone injections are another therapy used when the splint does not work. They can be very helpful in relieving inflammation and pain.

If all else fails, surgery is available as a final option to replace the jaw joints with artificial implants. If your doctor suggests surgery you should know that the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) advises that you seek a second opinion or two before proceeding.

Paying for TMJ Treatment

Many health insurance and dental insurance plans just say “no” to paying for TMJ treatment. However, if you were in a car crash and have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or Med-Pay coverage you may find that such coverage will pay for the treatment.

TMJ specialists will sometimes work on a “which” means they get paid when your injury case settles. Once when a young mother needed TMJ surgery I sent a letter to every oral surgeon in the valley and found one who agreed to perform the surgery on a lien. The surgery fixed her problem and added tremendous value to her case.


TMJ problems are common after car crashes. Be aware of the symptoms and, if present, get checked out by a TMJ specialist. Finding and treating TMJ will add a lot of value to your injury case, not to mention long term relief that will be more valuable than money.