Merriam Webster defines lockjaw as an "early symptom of tetanus characterized by a spasm of the jaw muscles and inability to open the jaw." However, from a dental professional's point of view, this definition is a bit misleading. It's true that lockjaw is associated with tetanus, but it's also tied to a problem with the joint bone of the jaw. Here's more about the condition and the details about lockjaw treatment to get you on your way to feeling your best.
What Is Lockjaw?
Lockjaw is a condition where the jaw has limited opening or closing ability. One reason is tetanus. This disease, involving the spores of Clostridium tetani, cannot be spread from human to human, and is often transferred through puncture wounds in unvaccinated individuals, according to the World Health Organization. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases says that tetanus and lockjaw are synonymous.
Patients who experience lockjaw should be informed of its connection to tetanus, and seek emergency medical attention. Once medical professionals have ruled out tetanus as the causative factor of lockjaw, further investigation of the condition is recommended by a dental professional. In many cases, lockjaw may be caused by a disorder common to the jaw joint. Lockjaw may occur when the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is inflamed. Individuals who experience difficulty in opening or closing their TMJ may be diagnosed with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
Symptoms of Lockjaw
Once TMD is diagnosed, it may be treated through medication, muscle therapy and mouth guard therapy. The health care professionals involved in the patient's care collect the noted symptoms and measure subsequent symptoms over time. Some of these symptoms include pain in and around the ear and jaw area, pain in the teeth from biting pressure, difficulties in swallowing or chewing, and clicking, popping, or locking of the jaw joint. The limitations and discomfort a patient experiences often drive them to see professional care and lockjaw treatment.
Treatment of Lockjaw
Pain relievers and antiinflammatory medications are often the first course of action in lockjaw treatment. Muscle therapies and relaxation techniques are often common. To relieve the tension and force on the jaw, many dental professionals often recommend patients wear mouth guards at night to release pressure and decrease jaw inflammation. Other professionals, such as behavioral or mental health counselors, can also assist patients in releasing pressure carried by their jaw joint in stressful situations. If pain persists, surgery is sometimes recommended.
Dental professionals recommend patients who experience TMD make additional efforts to seek preventive care for their teeth and gums. TMD pain and pressure may make teeth more sensitive. Brush daily with a toothpaste like Colgate Complete Protection toothpaste, which helps relieve the pain associated with tooth sensitivity.