How to Identify and Treat a Fractured or Dislocated Jaw
Oral health isn’t just about your teeth. The jawbone is a crucial player in many of your day-to-day functions, such as eating, breathing and speaking.
Since the jawbone is so important, you want to watch out for jaw pain, which could be a symptom of a fracture or dislocation. If you suspect a serious injury, address it as quickly as possible to prevent further jaw damage.
Fractured Jaw Symptoms
If you have recently experienced facial trauma, such as physical assault, a sports injury or a car accident, and you are experiencing jaw pain, your jaw may be fractured. You can test the theory by attempting to open and close your jaw. If something feels off when you do this, or you have lost teeth, this increases the likelihood of a fractured jaw. Assess your situation further by:
Examining your face: Check for swelling, bruising or protrusions on the side of your face.
Evaluating your pain level: Pay attention to the pain in your jaw as you chew and note any increases in your pain level.
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Failure to treat a fractured jaw can result in infection.1
Dislocated Jaw Symptoms
While the symptoms of a dislocated jaw are different than those of a fractured jaw, the consequences of leaving it untreated are much the same. Pain is a symptom as well as:
An overbite that didn’t previously exist 2,3
While common (only the nose is broken more frequently than the jaw 4), jaw injuries are treated as emergencies. As you await medical treatment, support your lower jaw to help stabilize it and keep your airway open. For both types of jaw injuries, you will need to see a doctor. Do not attempt to fix your own jaw as this could cause further pain and damage.
A doctor or oral surgeon will manipulate a dislocated jaw into the correct position. They may be able to do this manually after you’ve received anesthetics and muscle relaxants. These medications will minimize pain and allow the doctor to more easily manipulate the jaw.
Depending on the extent of the break, treatment for a jaw fracture may require surgery. Clean breaks may heal on their own while your jaw is immobilized, while multiple fractures will likely require surgical repair.
Both dislocated and fractured jaws are bandaged or wired shut during recovery to prevent you from opening your jaw too wide and to keep your bite in its proper place. After resetting a dislocated jaw, your doctor may wrap a bandage around your head and under your chin.
During your recovery, you won’t be able to open your jaw very wide for at least six weeks. Your diet during this time will consist of mostly liquids as you likely won’t be able to chew solid food. A few of the soft foods you may be able to chew depending on your situation include:
While you may be able to chew soft foods, most of your nutrition will likely come through a straw to ensure you are getting enough calories and vitamins. To maintain your weight while on a restrictive diet, doctors recommend cutting back on coffee, tea and diet soda and instead drink milk and other high-calorie beverages.
For fractured or dislocated jaws not requiring surgery, the recovery period typically lasts four to eight weeks. Recovery from a surgical procedure could take several months. No matter the treatment method, for most patients, the jaw heals successfully with few long-term effects.
Potential long-term effects include an increased likelihood of recurring jaw pain known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). People who have dislocated their jaw are also at an increased risk of future dislocation.5 To protect your jaw from future pain or injury, try supporting your chin when you sneeze or yawn.
Do You Suspect Your Jaw Is Fractured?
If you believe you have a jaw fracture, don’t waste any time getting proper medical attention. Schedule an appointment with the dental professionals at Greater Louisville Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Associates. Our team of surgeons has been helping residents in the greater Louisville area improve their oral health for more than 35 years. Call (502) 459-8012 or visit our website immediately following a facial injury to set up a timely consultation and treatment.