Your lower jaw is an integral part of eating, speaking and other tasks involving the mouth. But what happens if you suffer an injury to one of the two joints that connect it to the skull? The result could be serious pain and the inability to bring the upper and lower teeth together properly.
The exact types of injuries causing the pain and disability can vary, like the displacement of a tooth or a group of teeth. Another is swelling in the joint space that prevents the head of the joint (the condyle) from fully seating in the joint space; you could also experience a joint dislocation as the condyle is forced completely out of the joint space. Either swelling or dislocation can prevent the back teeth on the side of the affected joint from fitting together properly.
Another traumatic injury is a fracture of the bone at or near the joint; one of the most common is known as a “sub-condylar” fracture where the break occurs just below the condyle and results in more severe pain than inflammation or dislocation. A more serious fracture may involve the joint itself.
To treat the symptoms properly, it’s important to determine which of these injuries has occurred. This requires a full examination, including x-ray imaging, to determine if the injury involves soft tissue, bone or both. In the case of inflammation, we would prescribe anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant medication. The latter is especially helpful because trauma often leads to muscle spasms that lock the jaw in place to reduce further damage (nature’s splint, if you will). A dislocation may also require gentle manipulation to seat the condyle back into the joint.
Fractures are treated generally by repositioning the broken portions of the bone into their normal position and then immobilizing them while they heal. Immobilization is accomplished by joining the upper and lower teeth together, either by external or internal means. The latter option requires a surgical procedure.
If you’ve suffered an injury that results in any of these symptoms you should contact our office immediately. Only a complete diagnosis can point the way to the proper treatment that will relieve your discomfort.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of jaw pain, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Jaw Pain — What’s the Cause?”