People who have a temporomandibular disorder (TMD) are used to certain problems. Soreness in the jaw, headaches, and back, neck, and ear pain are just a few of the issues we see in our TMD patients every day. Sadly, many of them put up with these painful TMD symptoms for years before they are given a correct diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan.
But despite the years of pain, nothing can quite prepare a person for a locked jaw that refuses to open or close. This can be a frightening and stressful experience, and often happens at the most inopportune times, such as during a meeting or social event where you might have been doing excessive talking or been under stress.
Why Does the Jaw Ever Lock Open or Closed?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is possibly the busiest joint in the body. Talking, chewing, and breathing are common daily functions that require the use of the jaw and adjacent facial muscles.
Because it works so hard, the TMJ needs to remain healthy and flexible in order to work properly. If the TMJ is slightly out of alignment, swollen, inflamed, or too stretched, these daily tasks can take a toll on the joint. Initially, many people start to notice stiffness, popping, and pain when the jaw is under too much stress. If these signs are ignored, the TMJ can lose its ability to move as it should. This causes the joint to lock up or dislocate, and the person may be unable to open or close their jaw.
Acute injuries or accidents can also cause jaw dislocation. If you were in a car accident or your face or jaw was hit during sports or another activity, the TMJ could be affected. A dislocated or locked jaw after such an injury requires medical attention.
What to Do If You Can’t Open or Close Your Jaw:
Don’t let this complication take you off guard: here’s what you should do if your jaw locks and you need to fix it fast:
Take slow, deep breaths in and out. Panicking will not help you, but will likely add to the problem.
Get a heating pad. If at all possible, use a heating pad on both sides of the jaw to help relax the muscles.
Try to wiggle it from side to side. If the TMJ isn’t moving up and down, it likely needs a nudge to get it back into alignment. Moving it very slightly and gently to each side may help pop it back into place.
Get medical attention. Although you may be tempted to just get on with your day, this is not advised. A dislocated or locked jaw should be evaluated by a medical professional who specializes in TMD.