Made of 78.2 kilograms of rubber, steel and vinyl, it’s supposed to look and hurt like a human. It has arms. It has legs. It has a head. What it doesn’t have is moveable jaw joint. And this, says Dr. Greenacre, an Ottawadentist, is not only a major design fault in crash-test dummies, but one that has severe consequences for whiplash victims. “When you get into an accident, the loose jaw acts like a hammer hitting your head. You effectively get a rap on the head from the jaw below, which helps to cause the brain concussions and other whiplash-associated symptoms people have,” explains Dr. Greenacre. Among victims of whiplash, 60% never fully recover. “This could be because of unrecognized damage to you jaw joints and the muscles that support those joints.” While he admits that some people might find it strange for a dentist to be concerned with whiplash, he is not alone in his thinking. Dr. Brock Rondeau, a dentist inLondon, Ont., has been successful in alleviating symptoms related to whiplash-associated disorders in some of his patients. One of those patients, Suzanne Rogers, was in her car on July 23, 1998, waiting at a red light when another car rear-ended her. The impact caused her head to snap back severely. First, she felt a burning in her head. Then her neck swelled so much she couldn’t turn her head. She quickly developed all the classic symptoms of whiplash – stiffness, decreased range of motion, blurred vision and numbness in her head and face. But two days after the accident, she also developed a clicking in her jaw and severe facial pain. Her family doctor told her it would go away. “I was in pain all the time; it was a constant pain. I had fainting, dizzy spells and migraines. I was blind in one eye and kept walking into walls. I wasn’t getting better and the doctors could not understand why,” says Ms. Rogers, a 22 year old nursing student at St. Clair College in Chatham, Ont. She says she underwent a barrage of tests that, in the end, found there was nothing wrong with her. The problems in identifying symptoms of whiplash and their causes, says Dr. Greenacre, is that they are soft-tissue injuries that do not show up in X-rays. So, even though whiplash is the most common motor-vehicle-accident injury inCanadaand the subject of a worldwide conference that begins today inVancouver, the precise cause of whiplash-associated disorders remains debatable at best. That is why experts have dubbed it the “invisible epidemic.” Suzanne Tylko, an engineer in vehicle safety with Transportation Canada, says that crash-test dummies need to not only represent human tissue, but the movement of tissue and it’s response to a “load” or pressure applied to it. “It’s not just a question of throwing lips or a tongue or feet on to a dummy. The dummy must be able to mimic human response and we must be able to measure that response,” she said. And as for whiplash-associated disorders, which account for billions of dollars paid out by insurers, employers and governments every year, Ms. Tylko says it is difficult to do. “With whiplash, we don’t know exactly what is being injured. It’s essentially an invisible injury. There are theories about how the TMJ (the temporomandibular joint, in the jaw) is affected, but the majority of studies focus on the spine and so that is what the dummies measure,” she says.
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