Jaw locking can be a very painful condition and can continue to progress without treatment. Dr. Bakhtiari offers advanced and personalized treatment to patients with jaw locking in his New York City office. By determining the underlying causes of jaw function abnormality, Dr. Bakhtiari can effectively treat your jaw locking and ensure a pain-free future with full jaw mobility.
Why does my jaw lock, get stuck, or get stiff?
“Lock jaw” is the uncomfortable and potentially painful condition that occurs when the jaw is unable to open or close fully, or when the jaw gets stuck while opening and closing your mouth. The jaw locking can be caused by:
· Muscles of the jaw
· The disc/cartilage slipping out of the joint
· A dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint (otherwise known as the jaw joint)
· Improper jaw development or injuries
· Pathology in the maxillofacial structures – this is why a thorough evaluation is critical prior to initiating any treatment.
The TMJ (the jaw joint) is located right in front of your ears, where the skull bone meets the mandible, or lower jaw. The TMJ is one of the most complex joints in the body, consisting of three parts – two bones and a fibrocartilaginous disc. Additionally, it consists of ligaments, blood vessels, and some nerves. The disc is made out of a fibrocartilage and acts like a cushion between the upper and lower portions of the joint. In some patients, the disc slips intermittently or permanently out of place, preventing the jaw from moving and functioning properly. These changes in the joint dynamics, cause the jaw to get stuck. Often times the patient will describe a sensation of the jaw being off-track or misaligned.
What other symptoms or side effects are associated with jaw locking?
Prior to becoming “fixed” or “locked,” the jaw may make clicking noises when being moved, such as when talking and eating. While trying to open the jaw wide or to yawn, you may also notice your jaw getting pulled sideways or in a zigzag pattern. In general, jaw locking tends to be associated with discomfort or pain, as well as feelings of anxiety and worry of not being able to move your jaw properly.
How is jaw locking treated?
There are several techniques to address jaw locking, and the uncomfortable pain that accompanies it. The treatment options range from:
· Conservative treatments (such as jaw stretching exercises, medications and warm compresses)
· Mobilizing the joint
· Bite guards (also called splints, oral appliances, mouth guards, etc.)
· Injections (either of the TMJ, jaw muscles or ligaments)
· Flushing of the joint (arthrocentesis)
· Surgical removal of sticky adhesions (arthroscopy) or other structures
The treatment needed for each individual patient depends on several factors including the severity of the condition, how long the condition has persisted, to what treatment options have been tried and failed. We recommend starting with the most conservative treatment option and if that fails to advance to the next step. Conservative treatment options such as massage, warm compresses and ice packs help relax the jaw muscles and may reduce inflammation. For some patients, these conservative methods are sufficient at resolving the jaw locking while others may require mobilization, a bite guard (splint), or an injection. Custom-fitted oral appliances can help stabilize the jaw and reduce uneven pressure in the joint and muscles. In some instances, a splint is not the appropriate treatment choice and a joint, ligament or muscle (trigger point) injections is needed. In rare instances, surgical intervention such as arthroscopy may be the answer. The best way to ensure that you chose the proper treatment approach with the best outcomes, is to schedule an evaluation at the earliest indication of jaw locking or stiffness. Early evaluation and intervention can make the difference between a treatable short-term TMJ issue and a chronic TMJ problem.