Whiplash and jaw function
When you have an accident and your neck and head get shaken around up, you think about ‘whiplash’ and neck pain but do you think of the potential effect of a car accident on your jaw? Remember just how close your jaw is to your upper neck – feel the back of your lower jaw and its relationship to your ear and the back of your head.
You don’t need to have hit your jaw on anything to create jaw pain or problems moving your jaw as a consequence.
Your jaw movements are not just controlled by muscles of the jaw but also by some of the neck muscles. Joints in the neck can also influence how a jaw functions.
In a recent study in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation the subject of jaw function after whiplash injury was studied in 80 cases who had suffered a whiplash injury one month previously. These people were compared with 80 others who had not had a whiplash injury.
It was found that in that period, both jaw and neck sensory and motor function were impaired and this research highlights the link between neck problems and jaw function.
Therefore, just as I have spoken about many times, any issue we have with a joint in our body, will usually create other problems in nearby joints or muscles. Joints never function in isolation and if one joint is restricted then increased stress will be placed on nearby joints in order for us to function in our activities of daily living, which can overload those joints and muscles and pain can arise – sometimes months later when we had forgotten about the original problem.
In the people who had experienced a whiplash injury, they found greater pain and fatigue in the jaw during a five minute chewing test than in the control group.
Jaw problems can give you pain over the jaw region, aching in the ear area, aching pain in your face, locking of the jaw when eating so that you find it difficult to open or close your mouth fully and difficulty chewing or pain when chewing.
What can we do to help you with pain in the jaw as a result of a whiplash injury?
If your injury is recent then you could apply moist heat or cold compresses in an attempt to stimulate pain relief and improve movement.
Chiropractic treatment for the jaw will involve working on the muscles to reduce inflammation, promote repair and strength, checking and improving the function of the jaw joints and you may be given some exercises.
We will also examine your upper neck to see if there are problems there with the muscles or joints and work to restore function and mobility in that area.
Primary goals of the physical therapy component of treatment are to stretch contracted and fatigued muscles, increase the range of movement and reduce muscular trigger point activity.
A number of exercises are commonly used to treat TMJ-associated muscle disorders, including N-stretch (placing the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth and stretching the jaw, chin to chest (gently pulling the head forward, bringing the chin toward the chest); and head tilt (turning the head to one side and then tilting it posteriorly).
These exercises must be done four to six times per day to be effective. Come in to see us before you go to your dentist and spend a lot of money on splints or dental work – we may be able to get rid of that jaw pain quicker than you think!