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Fender-Benders

Fender-Benders: Source of TMD?

Memories of that recent fender-bender just won't go away, and, as if the car repairs and pending litigation weren't enough, now you're noticing persistent jaw pain, a symptom of TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder).The stress of the entire experience could be responsible for creating those symptoms in the first place, reports the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing dental education.

Recent findings show that, although there is a relationship between neck pain and reported TMD symptoms, stress creates the link--not damage to the neck muscle. "Stress is the predominant factor in TMD symptoms," says E. Mac Edington, DDS, MAGD, ABGD, immediate past president of the Academy of General Dentistry and national spokesperson. "Unless your jaw or face hits the windshield, the steering wheel, or another object, there is no physical correlation between TMD and whiplash," says Dr. Edington. "As the stress lessens, so will the pain."

TMD describes a variety of conditions that affect jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints and nerves associated with chronic facial pain. Symptoms may occur on one or both sides of the face, head or jaw, or develop after an injury. Misconceptions about what causes TMD often prolongs suffering. "Your teeth should come together only for 10 to 12 minutes per day when you swallow," says Dr. Edington. He says the first thing to do is recognize when you are clenching or grinding your teeth.

"Some people grind their teeth every time they do the dishes because they hate doing them," he says. During stressful periods, when TMD symptoms appear, he advises avoiding chewing gum and selecting softer foods to decrease the use of the jaw muscles. Just put your tongue between your teeth or at the top of your mouth to keep your teeth apart. People who experience head and neck trauma during a car accident need to see their dentist to have their jaw checked for TMD symptoms.