Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is a jaw joint condition that can cause a range of concerning symptoms, including severe pain. But perhaps the scariest side effect of the condition is a locked jaw, which happens when the small cartilage disc between the upper and lower jaws slips or moves out of place. 

If you have temporomandibular joint disorder, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The sooner your jaw pain is treated, the better off you’ll be in terms of preventing long-term damage. And if you’re experiencing a locked jaw, it’s even more critical that you get help right away

What Is TMD?

The temporomandibular joint is made up of two bones: the mandible (lower jawbone), which connects to the skull, and the temporal bone (upper jawbone). These bones are connected by a thin piece of cartilage called the meniscus. This cartilage acts like a shock absorber for the jaw; it allows the jaw to move smoothly without causing too much stress on the joints.

When this joint becomes damaged, the cartilage may become worn down, and the bones begin to rub against each other. This causes discomfort and pain, and also makes it difficult to open and close the mouth. In some cases, the joint may actually lock shut, making chewing and talking impossible.

Causes Of TMD

There are several different types of TMJ disorders, but they all involve the same problem: the cartilage has become damaged, allowing the bones to rub together. 

Symptoms Of TMD

People with TMJ disorder usually notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • Pain in the face, neck, shoulders or back
  • Difficulty opening or closing the mouth
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Swelling around the eyes
  • Earache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Tingling in the hands or feet
  • Problems sleeping
  • Unusual facial expressions
  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Facial numbness
  • Jaw muscle spasms
  • Inability to chew properly
  • Locked jaw

A Locked Jaw

Sometimes people who have TMJ disorder experience a locking of their jaw. When this occurs, the muscles surrounding the jaw start contracting, pulling the jaw closed. A person with a locked jaw will find it extremely hard to open his or her mouth wide enough to eat, yawn or talk. 

How Can You Tell If You Have A Locked Jaw?

You might not know if you have a locked jaw until you try to open your mouth. It’s very common for someone with TMD to feel a sudden increase in pain while trying to open their mouth. As the muscles continue to contract, the jaw starts to tighten, and it feels like there’s an iron band around the head. If you’ve had any kind of injury to the area where the jaw meets the skull, such as a broken tooth or a concussion, you may also experience increased pain when you attempt to open your mouth.

You can tell if you have a locked jaw by looking at how you bite your teeth together. If you have a normal bite, your upper and lower teeth meet tightly together. But if you have a locked bite, your teeth don’t touch. Instead, your upper teeth press against your lower teeth, which causes them to stick out slightly.

How Does A Locked Jaw Affect My Life?

If you have a locked jaw, you won’t be able to open your mouth fully. This means you’ll have trouble eating, drinking, smiling and laughing. You may also have problems speaking clearly, because your tongue will be forced into an unnatural position. You may even develop a sore throat from having to strain to speak.

Try relaxing and keeping calm if your jaw locks and is stuck in a closed position (we know this may be difficult, but panicking will cause jaw tension). Try massaging your jaw joints gently with your fingers. Also, make sure that you’re getting plenty of rest and relaxation.

Place your hands on both sides of your jaw and gently wiggle the joints from side to side and back and forth. This should help loosen up the muscles and allow your jaw to move freely again.

If you still have difficulty opening your mouth after using these techniques, see your dentist. We recommend visiting your dentist even though your jaw may have unlocked. Your dentist can perform tests to determine whether you have a problem with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and what treatment is best suited for you, including oral appliances, mouth guards, muscle relaxers and physical therapy. 

After your jaw is unlocked, we may suggest that you switch to a soft-food diet and avoid chewy foods to help your jaw and facial muscles relax. 

When Should I Be Seen For A TMJ Disorder?

As soon as you notice the symptoms we mentioned above. As with any medical condition, early intervention for temporomandibular joint disorders is critical for your recovery.  Call us now to schedule a consultation and learn about the treatment options available to you.