Locked jaw: approach life wide open!

Our experienced and caring dentists love a challenge. And a locked jaw is one of the most challenging patient presentations seen at our Melbourne clinic. Commonly acknowledged as one of the hardest things to fix in dentistry, a locked jaw happens when one of the discs within the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) moves in front of another component of the joint when the jaw opens and closes, and won’t return to its usual place.

The disc is now stuck forwards, and the jaw returns backwards. The patient tries to open their mouth, but can’t as the disc is in the way – hello, locked jaw!

And hello, pain! When patients try to open their jaw, they stretch the ligaments, nerves and blood vessels connected to the jaw, towards the back of the jaw space near the ear. This stretching may cause tinnitus (ringing), a feeling of full ears, and pain.

Allied health professionals have experience in managing chronic TMJ dysfunction (TMD) presentations and regularly achieve success.

But when the patient experiences these symptoms all of a sudden, they need treatment there and then. Acute TMD treatment involves manipulation (direct massage contact to the muscle by the dentist or assistant) or of direct-to-the-joint application of an injection of local anaesthetic or even saline.

The dentist may take X-rays before and after the treatment, to monitor progress and look for areas to improve. Sometimes the patient will also have an MRI scan to allow the dentist to look more deeply at the presentation before applying treatment.

It’s quite amazing – before treatment, this patient was barely able to open their mouth. Afterwards, the results spoke for themselves – the mouth was able to open to its full range and with no pain!