Do Motorsports Drivers Race Their Way to TMJ?

For those who love cars and car racing, Austin is a great place to be. Local tracks Circuit of the Americas and Driveway Austin host races that showcase a variety of vehicles, and the city is home to a number of annual car shows that highlight everything from concept vehicles to custom hot-rods.

american austin photo
Photo by Hugo-90. A custom American Austin hot-rod, similar to the Loose Tooth.

In fact, the name of one racing hot-rod recently got us wondering about the effects of racing on drivers’ dental health. As it turns out, the high rates of speed and harsh vibrations of many race cars may have little impact on drivers’ teeth but play a significant role in neuromuscular conditions such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

Behind the Wheel of the Loose Tooth

The custom car website SpeedHunters recently profiled a 1933 American Austin its owner dubbed Loose Tooth. American Austin was a car company that manufactured vehicles under a license from England’s Austin Motor Company.

American Austin produced cars from 1930 to 1934. After filing for bankruptcy, the company reorganized as American Bantam in 1935 and eventually made the prototype of what became the Jeep. Some of the Austin and Bantam models from the 1930s went on to gain a following with custom hot-rod builders and drag racers beginning in the 1960s.

Aside from its body, the Loose Tooth doesn’t have many links to its past. It features a 327 Chevy small-block engine that can generate upward of 300 horsepower, and it was rebuilt in the ’60s for drag racing.

Built for Speed?

The Loose Tooth was built for speed, but what about drivers? The SpeedHunters post doesn’t reveal how the Loose Tooth earned its name, but it likely wasn’t because it rattled a driver’s teeth loose.

Research into the physical effects of car racing on drivers is limited, however the existing studies reveal some consistencies. Neck injuries and neuromuscular injuries are among the most common, though there are no reports of damage to the teeth and gums outside of incidents related to crashes.

A 2004 analysis of race injuries at a single speedway over a four-year period found high instances of neck sprains and reports of neck pain. A 2005 study indicated that race driving generates “considerable loading of the neuromuscular system.” Neuromuscular is a broad term, but it includes the working relationship between the nerves and muscles in the neck, shoulders and back, as well as in the sensitive region where the jaw connects to the skull.

Steering Toward TMJ?

The latter study doesn’t single out TMJ as a neuromuscular impact, but it is a possibility given the repetitive G forces and vibrations. TMJ is often the result of repetitive stress such as teeth clenching or grinding (also known as bruxism).

TMJ may also be caused by jaw injuries, such as those sustained with the whiplash common in car crashes. Without treatment, TMJ can cause chronic and progressively worsening discomfort.

TMJ is often managed with the use of an oral appliance sometimes referred to as a “bite splint.” This device fits similarly to a sports mouthguard, but is designed to hold the jaw in its optimal resting position. Depending on the source of TMJ, some patients may benefit from another treatment, such as bite correction.

Austin dentist Dr. Dan Matthews has extensive experience helping patients relieve migraine-like headaches, jaw pain and other TMJ symptoms. Please call the Bee Cave Road office of Dan Matthews, DDS, at 512-452-2273 to schedule your consultation today.

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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