Locked Jaw: Causes and Treatment

 In Blog, Info Articles, TMJ

Locked Jaw: Causes and Symptoms

Locked Jaw: Causes and Treatment

Temporomandibular joint disorders, otherwise known as TMJ, are a type of affliction that affects the jaw but is a lot less common than jaw pain. As its name suggests, TMJ involves the temporomandibular joint which acts as a hinge and connects the jawbone to the skull.

Inside the jaw joint is a piece of cartilage called the “articular disk” that acts as a shock absorber and functions to keep the hinge-like sliding motions smooth under normal conditions. The articular disk, in turn, is supported by ligaments to ensure it stays in place. If anything goes wrong in this area, a locked jaw may be the result although, it is only one of the symptoms of TMJ.

Other symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Experiencing pain or tenderness in the jaw area
  • Aching temporomandibular joints
  • Throbbing pain in or near the ear section
  • Difficulty chewing
  • General pain in the facial region

Some people who undergo a locked jaw experience a kind of temporary painless “catch” where they feel that their jaw has become stuck momentarily, but still releases. But when the disk does not get pulled back into place, the jaw can get uncomfortably stuck in either an open or closed position.

An “open lock” is a type of locked jaw wherein the mouth cannot be fully closed, whereas a locked jaw situation called a “closed lock” is where the sufferer cannot open their mouth wide enough to fit even just two fingers into the mouth.

What causes TMJ?

The exact cause of TMJ can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint and may involve a number of factors such as genetics, jaw injury or arthritis. There are also cases where sufferers of TMJ tend to suffer from bruxism or teeth grinding, and yet there are people known to habitually clench or grind their teeth but do not get diagnosed with TMJ.

However, you may experience painful TMJ if:

  • The disk gets damaged in any way, erodes, or goes out of alignment
  • Arthritis damages the joint cartilage itself
  • You get hit in the face or the joint is damaged by a violent impact

TMJ treatment

Initially, the first thing you can do if you experience locked jaw is to relax and apply heat to the affected area in order to get the muscles to relax. Then put your palms on each side of your jaw to support the hinge-like sections as you gently move your jaw from side to side, and very slowly back and forth.

This can sometimes resolve the issue, but be extra careful and do not force it if the disk fails to pop back in place. And whether or not your locked jaw resolves itself, you need to immediately seek medical attention by calling or having someone call for your dentist or a TMJ specialist.

Once your dentist has done a thorough evaluation of your case, he or she can help identify the root cause of your TMJ and recommend a treatment plan. Surgery used to be one of the first options for locked jaw cases, but innovations in the dental field have shown that a combination of the use of dental splints, anti-inflammatory agents and physical therapy can work effectively to alleviate the symptoms.


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