What Causes a Jaw to Lock?

If you notice that your jaw clicks or locks when you chew, yawn, talk, or otherwise use the jaw joint to open your mouth, you may be concerned about the cause and how to fix the problem. Clicking and popping in the jaw joint are among the more common symptoms of TMJ disorder, which is characterized by the dysfunction of the temporomandibular joints that connect the jaw to the lower face on both sides and assist in its movements. This and other symptoms of TMJ arise when the TMJ joint and surrounding tissues are inflamed because of injury, medical conditions, and some other contributing causes. This inflammation can lead to noisy issues like clicking and popping, and it can come with pain in the jaw, radiating pain or aching near the ears and neck, and difficulty or pain while chewing. Sometimes, the pain is severe enough to significantly limit the range of motion of the jaw and interfere with necessary everyday activities. In most cases, these symptoms resolve when the cause of the disorder is resolved, and your dentist can help diagnose the condition and prescribe appropriate treatment. There are many things that could cause a jaw to lock, and effective diagnosis is the first step toward resolving the issue and getting back to normal.

Certain medical conditions and infections, like tetanus or arthritis, can cause the jaw to lock and require medical intervention to prevent long-term or permanent damage from occurring. If you have chronic symptoms of TMJ disorder, or if your jaw has locked suddenly and you’re unsure about the reasons for this, see your doctor or dentist right away, before the condition worsens and interferes with your well-being. In the absence of larger medical concerns, and to help relieve symptoms over the course of more comprehensive treatments, lifestyle changes can help manage and resolve the symptoms of TMJ disorder like reduced range of motion or muscle spasms that cause the jaw to lock temporarily. For example, if you clench your jaw or grind your teeth when under stress, relaxation and stress-management methods can help limit this often-unconscious behavior, and associated symptoms can be expected to resolve once the behavior has been curtailed.

Many people who habitually grind or clench their teeth find relief after using a mouthguard while sleeping or having a dental splint placed to correct dental issues that can contribute to this habit, sometimes after only a few days of use. People who chew a lot of gum are more prone to tension in their jaws, and reducing gum chewing can reduce this tension. If you’re noticing locking in the jaw joint or tension or pain surrounding the area, eat soft yet nutritious foods to help relax the muscles, and use non-steroidal inflammatory medications to address inflammation and irritation. Gentle massage, alternating hot and cold therapies, and exercising and stretching the jaw and surrounding muscles can also help relieve symptoms and reduce inflammation. If your jaw is sore or the joint is locking because of an injury or trauma to the face, or as one symptom of an inflammatory medical condition or infection, recurring medical treatment may be needed. When all other treatments fail, surgical intervention may be recommended to permanently resolve the issue and its contributing factors.

Fixing a Locked Jaw