Broken Jaw (Fractured Jaw)

Broken lower jawbones are painful and may affect your breathing. You need immediate medical care if you break your jaw. You can break your jaw if someone hits you or by being in a vehicle accident. You may need surgery if you have a severe fracture. Mild fractures heal on their own. Either way, you’ll be on a liquid diet until your jaw heals.


What is a broken jaw?

If you have a broken jaw (fractured jaw), it means something hit your lower jawbone (mandible) or your upper jawbone (maxilla) hard enough to break the bone. This article focuses on lower jawbone fractures. You can break your lower jawbone in more than one place, from the top of your lower jawbone (condyle) to the angle in your jaw that curves up and back toward your ears. A broken jaw is a medical emergency regardless of what part of your jawbone is broken.

Are broken jaws common?

Broken jawbones are the second most common facial fracture. Fractured noses (nasal fractures) account for 40% to 50% of all facial fractures.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are broken jaw symptoms?

Broken lower jaws hurt a lot, particularly if you try move your lower jaw back and forth or up and down. You may not be able to close your mouth or open it wide. If you have a broken jaw, you also may notice that:

  • Your nose or mouth is bleeding.
  • Your jaw or cheek is bruised.
  • Your jaw or cheek is swollen.
  • You have chipped or loose teeth or that teeth in your upper and lower jaws don’t match up when you close your mouth.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • It hurts when you try to chew food or talk.
  • You can’t open or close your mouth.
  • Your ears hurt.
  • Your face — particularly your lower lip — feels numb.

What does a broken jaw look like?

If you have a broken jaw, you may notice symptoms, including:

  • A lump on your jaw or cheek.
  • Swelling.
  • Bruising.

What causes broken jaws?

Research shows interpersonal violence — being hit in the jaw by another person — is the most common cause of broken jaws, followed by vehicle accidents. Other causes include workplace accidents and sports injuries.


What are the complications of a broken jaw?

A broken jaw may affect your ability to eat, speak and breathe. Left untreated, your jawbone may not heal or heal in a way that affects the way it looks or works.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a broken jaw diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will ask how you hurt your jaw and gently examine it. They’ll also order imaging tests, including:


Management and Treatment

What’s the treatment for a broken jaw?

Treatment depends on whether the jaw fracture was mild or more severe, meaning your lower jawbone fractured in more than one place:

  • Mild fracture treatment. Your healthcare provider may prescribe that you stay on a liquid diet for four to six weeks.
  • Severe fracture treatment. Your provider may do surgery, putting metal plates or bars on the broken area of your jaw. The plates or bars hold the bone in place to allow it to heal. Your surgeon may also hold your jaw closed with wires or elastics to aid in healing.

What are treatment side effects?

One study suggests that hardware failure and infection are the most common treatment side effects. Hardware failure happens when the plates, screws and wires break or don’t work like they should.

How long does broken jaw recovery take?

It may take weeks for your broken jaw to heal, even if you didn’t need surgery to repair it. While your jaw heals, you may need to:

  • Go on a liquid diet if you had surgery, drinking fluids through a straw. You won’t be able to brush your teeth and may need to use a dental rinse. If you didn’t need surgery, you may need to have a soft-food-only diet.
  • Place ice packs on your jaw. This will help with swelling.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to ease pain and swelling.
  • If your jaw is wired shut, remember to carry a wire cutter to cut the wire if you feel like you’re going to vomit, or you feel like you’re choking on something you need to spit out.
  • Place your fist or hand under your chin when you yawn or sneeze so that your jaw doesn’t move.


Can broken jaws be prevented?

Most people break their jaws after being injured in an accident or being hit in the jaw. You may not be able to prevent accidents or situations where someone could hit you in the jaw. But there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. For example:

  • Remember to wear a full-face helmet when riding ride motorcycles, bikes or scooters.
  • Always wear your seatbelt when riding in or driving a vehicle.
  • Consider wearing a protective face mask and mouth guard if you play contact sports, including skiing.
  • Wear protective headgear at work if your job involves an activity where you could be hit in the face.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a broken jaw?

That depends on your situation. If you had surgery, it may be a month or more before your jawbone heals completely. Your healthcare provider may recommend you stay on a liquid diet until your jaw heals and they can remove the plates and wires holding your jawbone together. You may to talk to a nutritionist for ways to incorporate nutritious foods into a liquid diet.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

Broken jaws heal very slowly. It may be weeks or months before you can resume your usual daily activity, including participating in sports.

When should I call a healthcare provider?

Contact your provider if you have:

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you have a broken jaw, you may want to ask your provider these questions:

  • What part of my jaw is broken?
  • What treatment do you recommend?
  • If I need surgery, what type of surgery do you recommend?
  • How long before my jaw heals?
  • What activities should I avoid?

Additional Common Questions

What’s the difference between a dislocated jaw and a broken jaw?

The difference is a dislocated jaw doesn’t involve a broken jawbone. It happens when your lower jawbone pulls away from your temporomandibular joints. But both dislocated and broken jawbones are medical emergencies.

What’s the best way to sleep with a broken jaw?

You need to protect your broken jaw even while you’re asleep. The best way to do that is to sleep on your back so you don’t put pressure on your jaw.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Most people heal from broken jaws, although a full recovery may take a few months. It’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations during recovery. For example, you may be on a liquid diet or only able to eat soft foods. You’ll need to protect your injured jaw, including taking an extended break from contact sports.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/12/2023.

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