Fixing a Locked Jaw
Lockjaw, also called trismus, is the condition of reduced range of motion in the jaw that prevents the mouth from opening adequately. Lockjaw is usually temporary but can be permanent, and, even when it is temporary, it can cause discomfort or pain that might be excruciating. Lockjaw can also interfere with the ability to speak, chew, or otherwise use the mouth, which can interfere with everyday activities and is clearly a cause for concern. Other symptoms that can accompany a locked jaw include ringing in the ears, headaches or earaches, pain that radiates from the jaw to the surrounding areas, a feeling that the jaws don’t align properly, and a popping or clicking sensation and noise when the jaw joint moves. If you notice locking or stiffness in your jaw, schedule an appointment with your doctor or dentist; in many cases, early intervention can prevent the issue from becoming a chronic cause for concern. Treatment to fix a locked jaw will depend on the severity of the issue, its duration, and its underlying cause.
When lockjaw arises because of a systemic medical concern, like tetanus, comprehensive treatment for the infection or other medical condition can help relieve its symptoms. Symptoms of a locked jaw can be relieved by conservative therapies like anti-inflammatory medications to treat discomfort and pain, oral or injected muscle relaxants, jaw-stretching therapies using stretching tools or physical therapy exercises, and warm and cold compresses to loosen muscles and reduce pain. Many patients also find relief from stress-reduction practices, like yoga or meditation. Patients with lockjaw are advised to maintain a diet of soft foods that are easy to ingest while the jaw movement is limited, aiming to include foods rich in magnesium and calcium, and to stay well-hydrated. These therapies will accompany more comprehensive treatments that aim to resolve the cause of lockjaw while managing its symptoms in the short term.
To relieve the pain and stiffness that often accompany a locked jaw, gently massaging the jaw joint and surrounding muscles can help the area relax, and alternating cold and heat therapies can reduce pain and inflammation. Medical providers recommend using ice to numb pain, applied topically to the face in the affected area for about 10 minutes at a time and then followed with a warm compress, for about the same duration, to relax the muscles and improve their flexibility. When over-the-counter pain medications don’t help with pain, doctors may prescribe muscle relaxers or other anti-inflammatories, and they may use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy to mobilize the joint by relaxing the surrounding muscles. Injections with corticosteroids or Botox can also help relax the muscles and fix a locked jaw; in many cases, these therapies are used in combination with each other. When these approaches are unsuccessful, certain surgical treatments might be recommended. These include arthroscopy, in which the surgeon uses a scope inserted in an incision near the ear to examine and extract inflamed tissue, and arthroplasty, in which the surgeon exposes the jaw joint and repairs the dysfunctional area by removing bone spurs and scar tissue and repairing the disk that supports the hinge of the jaw. These are both minimally or moderately invasive procedures that can be done on the same day, under general anesthesia. When the temporomandibular joint is seriously damaged by injury or has deteriorated due to arthritis, total joint replacement surgery, a more comprehensive surgical procedure, might be called for.