How a Fractured Jaw Is Identified and Treated

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The jaw plays a major role in helping you breathe, eat and speak. And unfortunately, any form of jaw pain can inhibit these pivotal functions. Chronic jaw pain results from a variety of conditions: teeth-grinding, TMJ, periodontal disease and even certain sinus issues. Of course, pain can also be caused by a fractured jaw you're unaware of.

Causes of a Broken Jaw

Your jaw is comprised of two cooperative bones: the upper jaw, called the maxillary; and lower jaw, known as the mandible. The mandible handles most of your mouth's mechanics, opening and closing the mouth and also allowing for the chewing of food.

A cracked or broken bone is referred to as a fracture. And according to Harvard Health Publications, a broken jaw is the third-most common type of facial fracture behind those of the nose and cheekbones. Nonetheless, there are a handful of physical traumas that can cause a fractured jaw: an automobile accident wherein a passenger hits the dashboard, an industrial accident, physicality from a contact sport such as football or hockey and any trip or stumble where your hands are unable to break your fall.

If you suspect you've fractured your jaw by any of these circumstances, be sure to visit your doctor.

Fracture vs. Dislocation

Keep in mind a dislocated jaw can be just as serious as a fractured one, and it's not always easy to tell the difference. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a dislocation occurs when the mandible is moved out of its usual alignment at one or both of the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), where the jaw and skull connect.

It's important to be able to recognize the symptoms of each. Signs of a broken jaw include:

  • Facial bruising, swelling or numbness.
  • Jaw stiffness, tenderness or pain that worsens with biting and chewing.
  • A bleeding mouth.
  • Damaged or loose teeth.

Signs of a Dislocated Jaw Include:

  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Inability to close your mouth.
  • Misaligned bite or teeth or a protruding jaw.

Of course, both conditions produce pain and limited jaw mobility. After performing a physical exam, however, your doctor is sure to take X-rays to confirm what actually happened.

Will It Be OK?

A jaw injury should be considered an emergency due to the potential issues related to bleeding or limited breathing. So as you await medical help, support your jaw to provide stabilization and to maintain an open airway. Surgery might be necessary for severe breaks resulting in displaced portions of bone. Luckily, if the fracture is clean, your jaw will self-heal as long as it's immobilized.

The type of fracture ultimately dictates the required method of treatment. A minor break might only need a bandage for your chin and head to prevent the jaw from opening too wide. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can ease any pain or discomfort while reducing swelling during this process. A more severe fracture, though, may require your jaw to stay wired shut for the time being to keep the jaw closed and preserve your bite. Expect at least six weeks recovery time for a fractured jaw. And because opening your mouth will (and should) be minimal if the break is serious, your diet will have to temporarily consist in liquids through a straw.

For a dislocation, the doctor might be able to reset your jaw to its proper alignment by using his or her thumbs and some combination of muscle relaxants and desensitizing items. Sometimes, stabilization through the use of bandages is possible, but in other cases, surgery is your best course of action to fully recover.

Broken jaws typically occur from some unexpected physical injury or trauma, but that's not an excuse to neglect a proper oral healthcare routine. Daily flossing and brushing with a toothpaste such as Colgate Total® Advanced Fresh + Whitening are musts. And don't forget regular checkups with your dentist.