The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) facilitates movement in the lower jaw with the help of the articular disc. Lockjaw is a symptom of a dysfunctional TMJ, making it difficult to open or close your lower jaw.
What is Lockjaw?
Lockjaw is a condition in which the lower jaw gets stuck in an open or closed position.
Closed lock: Most commonly identified when a person is experiencing difficulty opening their mouth. The mouth is unable to open to the standard 2-inch distance between the upper and lower teeth, typically limited to around one inch.
Open lock: People experiencing an open lock are unable to close their jaw to bring their teeth together.
How Does a Closed Lockjaw Happen?
The articular disc is an elastic piece of cartilage wedged between two elements in the TMJ. It enables smooth, flexible movement of the lower jaw and is held in place by ligaments. TMJ disorders, periodontal infections, or previous injuries can damage the ligaments, increasing the chances of an articular disc displacement. Hearing clicks or pops upon movement of the jaw often indicates that the articular disc isn’t functioning correctly.
Lockjaw occurs when the articular disc isn’t pulled back into place, resulting in the lower jaw getting stuck. While relatively uncommon, closed locks can be treated.
What Can I Do to Unlock My Locked Jaw?
You can do a few things at home to unlock your jaw, but it’s critical to see a TMJ specialist if they don’t work. Some closed locks won’t resolve on their own, meaning time is of the essence for treatment.
Try to Stay Calm
Your jaw is less likely to unlock if the muscles are clenched from stress. Try to stay calm to avoid adding more tension to the joint.
Apply a Warm Compress
Apply heat to your jaw for 10-15 minutes to help ease tension and reduce muscle spasms. A warm compress should always be applied before you attempt to massage or unlock your jaw. You can do this multiple times a day to help manage your locked jaw.
Massage Your Jaw
A gentle massage can improve blood flow and reduce tension in the lower jaw. Place 2-3 fingers just below your cheekbone and knead in circular motions for a few minutes. Afterward, gently try to move your jaw from side to side.
Treating a Closed Lock Jaw
The best chance for unlocking occurs within the first few days, so contacting a TMJ doctor as soon as the lock occurs is crucial. 30-day treatment with custom orthotics and closed lock procedures will help reduce inflammation, and in some cases, the normal range of motion may be restored. Over 30 days decrease the chances of being unlocked secondary to disc changes.
It’s important to understand that once unlocked, you may develop a clicking or popping sound on the side that was locked. Below is a list of treatment recommendations for a closed lock:
If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort from TMJ dysfunction, consider visiting a dentist trained in TMJ disorders. Visit Dr. Tracy Davidian to learn more and find an appropriate treatment plan for you.