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Jaw Locked? Don’t Panic!

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can be painful and, in some cases, downright scary, especially if the damage to your jaw joint is so significant that it causes your jaw to lock in place. If this happens to you, don’t panic. 

Yes, we know it is easier said than done. Here’s how you can help ease your locked jaw and painful TMD symptoms. 

What Is TMD? 

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is a term used to describe a range of conditions that cause pain or discomfort of the muscles, joints and nerves around the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It affects many people at one time or another. The TMJ connects the lower part of the face with the skull. It allows for movement of the jaw from side to side, up and down, and forward and backward. When the TMJ becomes damaged, it may cause pain and other problems. 

The most common symptom of TMD is limited mouth opening. This occurs when the jaw cannot move as freely as it should. Other symptoms include earaches, headaches, neck aches, toothaches, muscle spasms and ringing in the ears. Some patients also experience tinnitus, which means hearing sounds without any external source. 

Causes of TMD 

The exact cause of TMD is not known. However, there are several factors that contribute to its development. These include trauma, genetics, stress, poor posture and certain diseases such as arthritis. In addition, women have more trouble with their jaws than men. There is no cure for TMD, but treatment options exist.

Treatment Options for TMD 

There are two main types of treatments for TMD: noninvasive and invasive. Noninvasive therapies include physical therapy techniques that use stretching exercises, heat, massage and relaxation techniques. Invasive therapies are those that require surgery. They include arthroscopic procedures in which small cameras are inserted into the TMJ to see what is causing the problem. Medications are also available to treat TMD. Most medications work by reducing inflammation and relieving pain.

Noninvasive vs. Invasive 

You should try these treatments first before considering invasive treatments. They will help loosen tight muscles, reduce swelling and relieve pressure on the nerve endings.

  • Stretching exercises
  • Heat therapy
  • Massage
  • Relaxation techniques 

Other noninvasive treatments include:

Orthotic devices. These are custom-made orthodontic appliances that fit snugly over the teeth. They are designed to correct bite problems and improve posture.

Physical therapy. Therapists work with patients to teach them proper jaw-positioning techniques. In addition, physical therapy helps strengthen weak muscles and increase flexibility.

If noninvasive treatments fail to alleviate your symptoms, then you may need an invasive procedure such as surgery. 

Surgical options include:

ArthroscopyDuring arthroscopic surgery, a small camera is inserted into the joints through tiny incisions. Using this method, surgeons can remove damaged tissue and repair bone damage.

Dentistry. Dental implants are used to replace missing teeth. This procedure requires drilling holes in the jawbone and inserting metal posts. Once these posts heal, crowns are placed on top of them.

Surgery. Surgical procedures may also be performed to treat severe cases of TMD. For example, some people require jaw reconstruction after an injury has caused extensive damage.

What Causes the Jaw to Lock? 

If you suffer from TMD, you might wonder why your jaw locks. Here are some possible reasons:

Trauma to the jaw. A blow to the face could result in injury to the jaw joint.

Arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a condition that involves wear and tear of cartilage. Cartilage is located between bones and helps them glide smoothly over each other. As the cartilage wears away, bones rub together and cause pain.

Infection. An infection of the teeth or gums can lead to inflammation of the TMJ. If this happens, the muscles surrounding the TMJ become stiff and inflexible.

Stress. Anxiety, tension and depression can all affect the TMJ.

Poor posture. People who sit in front of computers often develop bad habits such as slouching or hunching over the computer screen. This puts excessive strain on the TMJ.

What to Do if Your Jaw Locks

If your jaw locks, don’t panic. 

First, use a warm compress. You can make a simple one yourself using a clean washcloth dipped in hot water. Alternatively, you can purchase a heating pad or gel pack. While the compress warms up, gently stretch your jaw open and closed several times.

Take deep breaths while holding your jaw slightly open. Try to keep your eyes closed so that you don’t focus on how painful it feels.

Once you feel relaxed, slowly open your mouth a bit wider. Repeat the process until you feel better.

Take anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or a muscle relaxant. 

Use ice packs or cold compresses to reduce swelling around the jaw joint.

Try to avoid chewing gum or biting your fingernails. Both activities can aggravate your symptoms.

Call us immediately. If your jaw locks, we recommend that you call us as soon as possible. We’ll be able to assess your situation and determine whether you need further treatment.

Are you showing the signs of TMD? Call us now to schedule a consultation.