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Should you see the dentist after an auto accident?

You may have clenched down pretty hard when you had your auto accident, particularly if the blow came from behind or you saw it coming and tensed up.

However, since you didn't have any broken teeth and there's no dental pain, you surely don't need a dentist, right?

Maybe. It depends a lot on whether or not you have some other significant symptoms that come along with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. The odds are high that if you suffered a whiplash, you also suffered an injury to this sensitive joint in the face that can make chewing difficult, cause popping and clicking sounds when you move your jaw and significant pain. TMJ can also interfere with eating, especially food you have to chew for quite a while.

In fact, the odds that you'll have TMJ pain following the trauma of a car accident are actually five times greater than without the accident.

The problem is that many people don't realize that their TMJ problems are related to the car accident they were in. The mechanism behind the damage to the TMJ is somewhat disputed -- there have been tests using cadavers that didn't end up with an injury to that particular joint, but cadavers also wouldn't have clamped their jaw shut in shock or tensed all their facial muscles up when the actual impact occurred.

Additionally, many people simply don't notice their TMJ pain right away, especially if they have whiplash. Whiplash occurs when the neck is rapidly snapped forward and back again and is associated with severe pain. Head injuries are also common with whiplash, especially when victims strike the dashboard. There's a theory that the neck pain and head pain simply override the body's ability to note the TMJ pain until well after the whiplash is healed.

Whatever the reason, if you've been in a car accident -- and, especially if you've suffered a whiplash -- be alert for any signs of TMJ. If you have any doubt, consult with your dentist. An x-ray can often confirm that the joint is displaced.

If you've been injured in a car accident, you should also seek the services of an attorney. Insurance companies routinely try to downplay problems like TMJ if they weren't discovered immediately after the accident. A personal injury attorney can help you get the compensation that you deserve.

Source: William Halligan, DDS, "After the Auto Crash -- the Dentist's Role," accessed June 23, 2017

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