Help! My Jaw Won’t Close!

Locked jaw due to TMJ

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ/D) is a medical condition where the temporomandibular joint of the jaw becomes misaligned and causes pain throughout the face, head, neck and even the back.

Patients with the disorder often have trouble being diagnosed because of the range of symptoms. A TMJ specialist takes the time to perform tests to truly diagnose TMJ/D. In addition to the aforementioned pain, symptoms can include:

  • Tinnitus
  • Clicking or popping the jaw
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Migraine headaches
  • Muscle aches

But one symptom, in particular, is much more obviously related to TMJ disorder – and a lot harder to deal with.

Locked jaw due to TMJ 

A locked jaw is a symptom of TMJ disorder that causes the jaw to not close or open all the way due to stiffness. That stiffness can be caused by any number of things, including talking, chewing some foods, being hit in the jaw, and even breathing. The bad news is most of those behaviors are pretty common – and pretty necessary in some cases (hello, eating and breathing!), so you can’t exactly ignore them. But the good news is that when lockjaw does occur, there are steps you can take to help unlock the jaw and ease the pain.

What to do if your jaw locks:

  1. Don’t panic. It’s like those wicker finger puzzles you used to get as prizes at the arcade. The more you panic and struggle, the worse things will get and the harder it will be for you to unlock your jaw. Just try to breathe in and out in deep, cleansing breaths and move to step two.
  2. Apply a hot compress to both sides of the jaw to loosen the muscles that have become tense.
  3. If you cannot open and close your jaw, try moving it from side to side. This could help push it back into place and allow you to open and close it again.
  4. Call (or have someone else call) Dr Alexandra George and schedule an appointment to have your jaw checked. A TMJ dentist and specialist will either reset your jaw or make sure it has properly reset.

How a TMJ dentist can help

Unlike general dentists, a TMJ dentist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ/D. At Pittsburgh Dentist, we take the time to learn about your condition so that we can customize a specific treatment plan. 

We look at the oral and facial structure as a whole, evaluating the muscles of the head and neck, your posture, symptoms, your bite, jaw alignment, and more. Once diagnosed, a TMJ dentist will recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Orthotic appliance – A semi-permanent appliance that is removable and may be worn up to 24 hours a day, an orthotic appliance moves the lower jaw in the proper position to reduce painful TMJ/D symptoms. 
  • Crowns – Crowns can help relieve painful TMJ/D symptoms by restoring your teeth to a pain-free position. Unlike orthotic appliances, crowns are not removable. Crowns are ideal for patients with a history of teeth grinding (bruxism) and worn teeth as they can help restore the tooth’s structure. 
  • Braces – The objective of braces for TMJ/D treatment is to move the teeth and remodel the jawbone structure to a more comfortable and permanent position. While traditional braces focus on aesthetics, straightening the teeth, and aligning the bite, braces for TMJ/D focus on relieving pain and discomfort.
  • Disclusion Time Reduction (DTR) Therapy – Using the latest Tekscan and EMG technology, DTR therapy provides us with accurate measurements of a patient’s bite. We can identify contacts that may be leading to hyperactive muscles, breakage, and TMJ/D symptoms. With the data gathered, Dr George can make accurate micro-adjustments to the tooth and achieve a better-balanced bite and more functional bite activity.

Living with TMJ disorder can be challenging and disruptive. Dealing with constant pain and discomfort can significantly decrease your quality of life and knock you off balance. If you’ve been diagnosed with or suspect that you have TMJ disorder, contact us and we can create a treatment plan tailored for you. 

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on October 10th, 2018