Broken or Dislocated Jaw
What is the jawbone?
Your jawbone keeps your teeth in place and helps you speak, chew and swallow. It consists of an upper jawbone (maxilla) and a lower jawbone (mandible).
You can move the lower jawbone forward, backward and sideways, but the upper jawbone doesn’t move. The jawbone is part of the skeletal system.
What is a broken or dislocated jaw?
Like other bones in the body, the jawbone can experience a fracture (broken bone). You can also dislocate the jawbone. A dislocation means the lower jawbone moves out of one of the two temporomandibular joints (TMJ) that connect the mandible to the skull.
Both conditions can cause pain and make it difficult or impossible to talk or eat. A dislocated or broken jaw can also affect breathing. These medical emergencies require prompt evaluation and treatment.
A fracture or dislocation most often affects the lower jawbone. Fractures can occur in the:
- Part that supports your teeth (body).
- Angle where your jaw curves.
- Knob-shaped joint at the top of the jawbone (condyle).
- Point where the two sides of the lower jawbone join (symphysis).
An upper jawbone fracture often happens along with other facial fractures like the cheekbone (zygomaticomaxillary or ZMC fracture) or eye socket (orbital fracture). Broken jaws are second to broken noses as the most common type of facial fracture.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes a broken jaw?
Most broken jaws are the result of:
- Accidents, including vehicle accidents, workplace accidents and falls.
- Assaults and trauma.
- Sports injuries or other injuries.
What causes a dislocated jaw?
It’s also possible to dislocate a jaw while:
- Getting a dental procedure.
- Opening the mouth too wide.
What are the symptoms of a broken or dislocated jaw?
A broken or dislocated jaw tends to be very painful. You may also have:
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a broken or dislocated jaw diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam to assess the injury. You may also get these diagnostic tests:
Management and Treatment
What are the treatments for a broken jaw?
Treatments for a broken jaw depend on the severity of the injury. Mild fractures may heal on their own. You’ll need to eat a soft diet or liquid diet while the jawbone heals.
More serious fractures require surgery. Your healthcare provider may:
- Wire the upper and lower jawbones together for several weeks to hold the broken bones in place.
- Place metal plates on the fractured area to help the bone heal and fuse together.
What are the treatments for a dislocated jaw?
Your healthcare provider may perform a closed reduction (nonsurgical) treatment. In this procedure, your provider manually moves your jaw back into place. You receive a local anesthetic to numb the area. You may also have a muscle relaxant or sedative to keep you comfortable during the procedure.
If you are prone to jaw dislocations, your provider may recommend surgery. Surgery can shorten the ligaments that connect the jawbone to the skull. The procedure tightens the connection to the temporomandibular joint.
What should I expect during recovery?
While recovering from a dislocated or broken jaw, you may:
- Apply ice packs to the jaw area to reduce swelling.
- Eat soft foods or drink a liquid diet through a straw.
- Place a fist or hand under your chin to keep your mouth shut when you feel the urge to yawn or sneeze.
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to ease pain and swelling, as well as antibiotics to prevent infections.
- Use a prescription dental mouth rinse if you’re unable to brush your teeth.
- Wear a stabilizing bandage (called a Barton bandage) for several weeks to limit jaw movement. The bandage wraps under your chin and over the top of your head.
When healing is complete, your healthcare provider may recommend exercises to strengthen the jaw.
How can I prevent a broken or dislocated jaw?
Often, there isn’t a way to prevent the accidents and injuries that cause broken or dislocated jaws. You may lower your risk of facial fractures by wearing:
- Helmets, facemasks and mouthguards when riding motorcycles, bikes and scooters, skiing or playing contact sports.
- Protective headgear on the job, if applicable.
- Seatbelts in cars.
Outlook / Prognosis
What are the complications of a dislocated or broken jaw?
A dislocated or broken jawbone requires immediate medical attention. A severely broken jawbone can affect your breathing, especially if there are other facial fractures.
If you have surgery to wire your jaws shut, you should carry wire cutters with you at all times. You may need to cut the wire if you feel like you are choking or feel the urge to vomit.
When should I call the doctor?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Pain that doesn’t improve with at-home treatments.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What is the best treatment for my condition?
- What foods are safe for me to eat?
- How can I prevent future jaw dislocations?
- Can jaw-strengthening exercises help?
- Would I benefit from surgery?
- Should I watch for signs of complications?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Most people heal from dislocated or broken jaws, although a full recovery may take a few months. It’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations during recovery. You may need to eat a soft diet, take care while brushing teeth and not open the mouth wide. You may be more prone to jaw dislocations after the problem happens once. Your provider can offer suggestions to prevent future jaw dislocations and fractures.
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