Dislocated Jaw

You have a dislocated jaw when your lower jawbone (mandible) pulls away from your temporomandibular joints (TMJ). A dislocated jaw is a medical emergency because you may not be able to eat or speak. Healthcare providers treat a dislocated jaw by gently pushing your lower jaw back where it belongs.


Lower jaw (mandible) connected to a temporomandibular joint.
When you dislocate your jaw (inset), your lower jaw (mandible) is pulled away from your temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

What is a dislocated jaw?

You have a dislocated jaw when your jaw joint or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is out of place. Your TMJ includes the joints, jaw muscles and ligaments that connect your lower jaw to your skull. These parts work together so you can open and close your mouth.

When you dislocate your jaw, the parts that help your jaw move can’t work as they should. A dislocated jaw is a medical emergency because you may not be able to eat or speak. Healthcare providers treat a dislocated jaw by gently pushing your lower jaw back where it belongs.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms?

A dislocated jaw is very painful. If you’ve dislocated your jaw, you also may notice:

  • You can’t close your mouth.
  • Your jaw looks lopsided.
  • You look as if you’ve suddenly developed an open bite, where your upper and lower teeth don’t meet in a normal position.

What causes the condition?

You could dislocate your jaw while doing everyday activities such as yawning widely, laughing or biting into an oversized sandwich. You also may dislocate your jaw if someone or something hits your jaw.

You may be more likely to get a dislocated jaw if you:

  • Have certain connective tissue syndromes that cause your joints to be unusually flexible (hypermobile) loose. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is an example of a connective tissue syndrome that affects your joints.
  • Have seizures.
  • Need medical or dental treatment where you need to keep your mouth open wide for a long time.


Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose jaw dislocation?

Providers will ask how your jaw was dislocated, such as whether it happened from an injury or because you had your mouth wide open while eating or laughing or during a dental or medical procedure. They’ll examine your lower jaw. They may do an X-ray to determine the gap between your skull base and your temporomandibular joint.

Management and Treatment

How do healthcare providers treat a dislocated jaw?

Interestingly, medical historians credit Hippocrates for the way providers treat dislocated jaws today. Hippocrates was a Greek physician, known as the “father of medicine,” who lived from about 460 B.C.E. He called the treatment “molchlicon.” Now, it’s called manual reduction.

In manual reduction, a provider gently moves your jawbone back into place. They place their thumbs on either side of your mouth and their fingers under your chin, and then, they gently push your jawbone back where it belongs. (You’ll receive a sedative, local or general anesthesia, for this procedure.)

A dislocated jaw is a medical emergency. Providers can treat your dislocated jaw with manual reduction if they’re able to treat it right away. Delaying treatment makes manual reduction less likely to work.

If your jaw continues to pull away from your TMJ, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery. The surgery tightens the connection between your jawbone and your temporomandibular joint by shortening the ligaments that connect your jawbone to your skull or providing a free pathway for self-reduction.



Can I prevent dislocated jaws?

Not always. Some people dislocate their jaws because they were hit in the jaw. You may not be able to avoid all the situations where that can happen, such as vehicle accidents or falling on your face. That said, there are things you can do:

  • Talk to your dentist. People can dislocate their jaws while trying their best to open wide. Let your dentist know if you need a break during treatment.
  • Cut your food down to size.It may sound unlikely, but opening your mouth wide to bite into an oversized sandwich is one way people dislocate their jaws. You may need to dismantle your sandwich before digging in.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have this condition?

It takes most people about six weeks to recover from manual reduction for a dislocated jaw. Your provider may recommend the following steps to help you to recover:

  • Continue wearing a special bandage (Barton bandage) that helps to keep your jaw in place while you recover.
  • Place a fist or hand under your chin to keep your mouth shut when you feel the urge to yawn or sneeze.
  • Manage pain and reduce swelling by applying ice to your jaw. You may also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for swelling and pain.
  • You may need to only eat soft foods while your jaw heals. Ask your provider for recommendations.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

Giving yourself time to heal is the best way to take care of yourself. People who have manual reduction typically recover within six weeks. But it may be a few months before your jaw heals completely.

When should I see my healthcare provider or go to the emergency room?

Unfortunately, dislocating your jaw once increases the risk you’ll dislocate it again. Go to the emergency room if you dislocate your jaw again.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

You have a dislocated jaw when your jaw joint or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is out of place. You can dislocate your jaw by laughing with your mouth wide open, by biting into an oversized sandwich or if something or someone hits your jaw hard. No matter how it happens, a dislocated jaw is a medical emergency. The quicker you seek treatment, the more likely you’ll be able to heal without needing surgery.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/10/2023.

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