Information on the causes and symptoms of lockjaw.

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  1. What Is Lockjaw?
  2. Diagnosing Lockjaw
  3. What Causes Lockjaw?
  4. Help for Lockjaw
  5. More Information about Lockjaw

What Is Lockjaw?

People sometimes refer to Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD), or commonly TMJ, as lockjaw. Lockjaw is also a common name for the disease tetanus, but that is a seperate ailment.

Lockjaw refers to problems of the jaw, muscles and connective tissues surrounding the jaw, and involves the joint between the upper and lower jaw. When people refer to lockjaw as TMJ, they are using an inaccurate term. TMJ simply refers to the joint while jaw disorders affect all of the tissues previously noted.

How Is Lockjaw or TMD Diagnosed?

A dentist will discuss your symptoms and evaluate if they are signs of TMD. He or she will then perform an examination of your bite and the movement of your jaw, checking to see if your jaw clicks, grates or makes popping noises. Some people experience locking of the jaw in the open position if the mouth is opened too wide. Less commonly, the joint may lock in the closed position.

A panoramic mouth x-ray may be taken to rule out other problems and to gain further information about the health of your jaw and surrounding tissues. This will allow your dentist to view the entire jaw, temporomandibular joints and teeth to be certain that other problems aren't the cause of your symptoms. If necessary, other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computer tomography (CT), are performed as well. Depending on the results, your dentist may refer you to an oral surgeon for further evaluation.

People with lockjaw or TMD often experience pain in the jaw, neck, the joint between the upper and lower jaws or around the ears. Some people experience facial pain or headaches, and the pain may be intermittent or chronic with occasional swelling. Lockjaw is more common in women. It is most prevalent between the ages of twenty and forty, but can occur at any age.

Toothache, sinus problems and other head and neck problems must be ruled out when your health care provider is considering making a diagnosis of TMD.

What Causes Lockjaw or TMD?

There is often a structural problem present. It may be congenital or result from arthritis, injury, stress or grinding of the teeth during sleep. Malocclusion due to missing teeth may also cause TMD.

What Treatments Are Available for Lockjaw or TMD?

Many times, people experiencing lockjaw or TMD can obtain relief by incorporating self-care strategies into their lives.

Conventional practitioners may recommend pharmaceuticals to reduce pain, stress and muscle tension. Surgery is sometimes employed in difficult cases. A combination of techniques is often the best treatment.

Alternative practitioners sometimes report success in treating lockjaw with low level laser therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), ultrasounds and trigger point injections. Splints or night guards are commonly prescribed by dentists, and massage and physical therapy may be beneficial as well.

More Information about Lockjaw or TMD

  • Eat soft foods that do not require you to open your mouth very wide. Avoid chewy and hard foods.
  • Obtain excellent dental care including fillings, crowns and dental bridges as needed. They can maintain a proper bite and prevent flare-ups.
  • Avoid activities that require excessive jaw motion. For example loud singing, performing referee duties and gum chewing should be avoided.
  • Hold a telephone with your hand or use a headset. Do not talk on the phone while holding the telephone wedged between your chin and shoulder.
  • Try meditation and other relaxation techniques. Try progressive muscle relaxation, especially for your face and upper body.
  • Practice body awareness. Note what practices trigger discomfort and what relieves it. Note what you were doing prior to distress increasing. Note whether you tense your jaw when stressed or if you grind your teeth.
  • Try applying hot or cold packs to the area of your jaw. Ask your health care provider if mouth exercises would be beneficial.
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