Dental Dilemmas – Locking Jaw

Q. My jaw keeps on locking up whenever I try to open and close it. Why is that?

A. The feeling you get when your jaw becomes stuck whenever you try to open or close can be a mixture of pain and panic. Sometimes, people seem to assume the worst, so it’s important to know what the symptoms are and what they mean.

Often, people mix up their terminology when describing symptoms of their jaw locking up. The majority describe it as ‘lockjaw’– which is actually an extremely serious bacterial infection, when in fact you’ll be suffering from ‘jawlock’. There are two potential reasons why this might be the case, both related to different aspects and functions of your jaw.

One of them is that the temporomandibular joint – which connects your lower jaw to your skull – is unbalanced or damaged. This could be from grinding teeth, clenching your jaw or if you have sustained an injury.

When the cartilage becomes damaged it can cause the jaw to get stuck. The other is severe malocclusion– which is when the top and bottom teeth don’t fit too well when you bite. When this does happen, the muscles in your jaw tend to tighten up and struggles to function properly.

The most common symptoms are pain around your jaw, neck, cheek and ear, and/or hearing a popping or clicking sound every time you move your jaw. Sometimes the symptoms may become worse when you chew.

But, because the symptoms to vary from person-to-person, it’s always best to visit your dentist to get an accurate diagnosis.