Broken Jaw: Causes, Symptoms & Ways to Treat a Dislocation

Broken Jaw: Causes, Symptoms & Ways to Treat a Dislocation
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Table of Contents

  1. Broken & Dislocated Jaw
  2. Causes
  3. Symptoms
  4. Treatment Methods
  5. Recovery Timeline
  6. Talking & Eating With a Broken Jaw
  7. References

A fracture in the jawbone is a broken jaw. This is the third most common type of fracture in your face after a broken nose or cheekbone.1

Typically, a jaw is broken after a direct impact to the lower face. You can also dislocate your jaw, which happens when the lower jaw moves out of its normal position.

Pain and stiffness in the jaw, and difficulty moving it, are some of the most common symptoms of a broken jaw. A broken jaw requires immediate medical attention, and the treatment options will depend on the severity of the break.
A minor fracture may heal on its own with some special care and attention, while a more severe break can require surgery. The severity and invasive nature of the treatment will also impact the recovery time.

Broken & Dislocated Jaw

The mandible is your lower jawbone, and it can be broken just like other bones in your body, mostly due to injury or trauma. A fracture in the jawbone is a broken jaw. This can range from a small fracture to a complete break or shattering of the bone.

The mandible can also become detached from the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), which are what connects it to the skull and allows you to open and close your mouth. This is called a jaw dislocation. The mandible can become dislocated from one or both TMJs.

Causes of a Broken Jaw

A broken jaw is most often caused by trauma or injury to the lower face.2 This can happen as the result of the following:

  • Car or motor vehicle accident
  • Assault
  • Sports or recreational injury
  • Fall
  • Dental or medical procedure
  • Industrial accident

Any kind of direct impact to the lower jaw has the potential to cause a fracture or a dislocation. Usually, a broken jaw refers to the lower part of the jaw, or mandible, being fractured. When the upper part of the jaw (the maxilla) is broken, it is often classified as a facial fracture instead of a broken jaw.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a Broken Jaw

A broken jaw is often very painful directly in the jaw and also in the face. Additional symptoms of a broken jaw can include the following:

  • Pain when moving the jaw
  • Stiffness in the jaw and trouble moving it
  • Numbness in the face
  • Swelling and bruising on the face
  • The jaw moving out of place (to the side) when opening
  • Dislodged, damaged, or loose teeth
  • Lump in the cheek or jaw
  • Trouble eating and tenderness when chewing
  • Ear pain

A dislocated jaw can have similar symptoms to a broken jaw. It can also include the following:

  • Pain that gets worse when the jaw is moved
  • Difficulties closing the mouth
  • Bite feeling “off”
  • Teeth not lining up correctly
  • Trouble talking
  • Locked jaw or the jaw sticking out in a forward position
  • Drooling

A broken jaw can cause complications, such as bleeding and difficulty breathing as the airway can become obstructed. A broken and/or dislocated jaw is a medical emergency and requires prompt professional care.

Symptoms of a Dislocated Jaw

Treatment Methods for a Broken Jaw

Generally, a doctor’s exam can determine if you have a broken jaw. They will likely take x-rays to diagnose the fracture, its direct location, and its severity.

The placement of the fracture and its severity will determine how it is treated. For a milder fracture, rest and a soft food diet with minimal chewing are the primary treatments.

A more severe fracture where there are multiple breaks or the bones are separated (a displaced fracture) will need to be repaired, often with surgery.3 Metal plates can be screwed into the bones to hold them together. The jaw is often wired shut to hold it in place while it heals. During this time, you will need to eat very soft foods and go on a mostly liquid diet.

A dislocated jaw will need to be put back in place. The doctor can do this manually, and medications to relax the jaw and numb the area are used. The jaw will then often need to be stabilized with bandages to keep you from opening it too wide during healing.

Recovery Timeline

The amount of time it takes for your jaw to heal after being broken or dislocated will depend on how severe the trauma was and the type of treatment needed to heal it. For example, surgery will add time to the recovery process.

In general, it will take six to eight weeks for your broken jaw to heal. During this time, you will need to take proper care to rest it and follow your doctor’s directions.

Talking & Eating With a Broken Jaw

It is important to let your jaw rest while it is healing from a break or dislocation. You will need to stick to soft foods and liquids for several weeks while it heals.

Over-the-counter pain medications can help to ease your discomfort when talking or eating. The discomfort is usually temporary and will ease as your jaw heals.

Blending foods into smoothies or soups and eating smaller meals more frequently can help you to get proper nutrition while allowing your jaw to rest. If you have a dislocated jaw, you will need to take extra care when sneezing or yawning. Hold your jaw to support it so that it does not open too far. You will also need to talk slowly and distinctly to be understood.

If your jaw has been wired shut, carry wire cutters with you at all times. If you vomit, you will need to cut the wires so you do not inhale the vomit. Contact your doctor right away to have the wires replaced.

Take any medications as prescribed and follow all instructions provided by your medical care team.

General References

Pearls of Mandibular Trauma Management. (November 2010). Seminars in Plastic Surgery. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Complex Rehabilitation of Patients With Jaw Fractures. (August 2018). Journal of Dentistry, Oral Disorders & Therapy. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Medical References

1 Broken Jaw. (May 2019). Harvard Health. Date Fetched: September 22, 2021.

2 Broken or Dislocated Jaw. (September 2021). U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

3 Fractures of the Jaw and Midface. (May 2020). Merck Manual. Date Fetched: September 23, 2021.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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