A broken jaw refers to a fracture of the jawbone or mandible, whereas a dislocated jaw is where the lower part of the jaw moves out of position.

Both injuries have a variety of causes, including facial trauma. Stretching the jaw too much, such as when yawning or biting, can also cause dislocation.

Both of these injuries can cause severe pain in the jaw and face and can also restrict the movement of the jaw. A broken jaw can cause facial bruising and swelling, while a dislocation may cause the lower jaw to become misaligned with the skull.

Treatment for a broken jaw depends on the severity of the injury. In mild cases, medical interventions are unnecessary. A doctor can often treat a dislocated jaw by manually repositioning it.

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments for broken or dislocated jaws.

Broken or dislocated jawShare on Pinterest
A broken or dislocated jaw can cause severe pain and restrict movement.

Doctors call the lower part of the jaw the mandible. It is separate from the rest of the skull.

The mandible connects to the skull via the temporomandibular joints (TMJs), which allow the jaw to open and close.

When the mandible bone breaks or shatters, the injury can result in a complete break with a displacement of the bone, or a fracture with no displacement of the bone.

A jaw dislocation occurs when the mandible becomes detached from one or both of the TMJs.

The maxilla, or upper part of the jaw, can also break. However, doctors typically consider these injuries to be facial fractures rather than a broken jaw.

Trauma to the face can also lead to a break or dislocation of the jaw. Which of these two injuries occurs depends on the location of the trauma and the degree of force. The trauma can have many different causes, such as from a fall or a sporting injury.

Opening the mouth too widely is a common cause of a dislocated jaw. This could occur through:

  • yawning
  • biting
  • vomiting
  • a dental procedure

A TMJ disorder causes pain and affects the movement of the jaw. People with these disorders are at higher risk of dislocating their jaw. People who have dislocated their jaw before are also at a higher risk of jaw dislocation.

Broken or dislocated jaw eatingShare on Pinterest
A person with a broken jaw may experience pain when chewing.

A broken or dislocated jaw have similar symptoms. But there are some key differences.

The symptoms of a broken jaw include:

  • pain in the face or jaw
  • pain when moving the jaw, such as opening the mouth or chewing
  • bruising and swelling on the face
  • stiffness and difficulty moving the jaw
  • dislodged teeth
  • numbness of the face
  • jaw moving to the side when opening

Facial trauma causing a broken jaw can also affect other areas of the face. For example, the injury can also damage the nose, mouth, or cheek. This can cause further symptoms to occur.

The symptoms of a dislocated jaw include:

  • pain in the face or jaw
  • the lower part of the jaw out of alignment with the upper part
  • stiffness and difficulty moving the jaw
  • inability to close the mouth
  • an over or underbite

Broken and dislocated jaws often require immediate medical attention. It is essential to support the jaw until receiving medical help. This can be by manually holding the jaw in place or using a bandage around the head and under the jaw.

The treatments for broken and dislocated jaws are different.

Broken jaw treatments

Treating a broken jaw will depend on the severity of the injury. Minor fractures often heal on their own, without the need for medical intervention. However, a doctor may suggest a person takes pain medication to help to relieve discomfort and eats a liquid or soft food diet to avoid worsening the injury.

More severe breaks will require medical interventions or surgery. It may be necessary to screw metal plates or wires onto the sides of the jaw to support it while it heals. The healing process can take several weeks. After this period, a person may need to do some exercises to strengthen the jaw muscles that have been inactive for weeks.

Dislocated jaw treatments

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Yawning can cause further injury if a person has dislocated their jaw.

A doctor can often treat a dislocated jaw by manually repositioning it. This is what doctors call a manual reduction.

To perform a manual reduction, a doctor will place their thumbs against the lower back teeth inside the mouth.

They will place their remaining fingers under the jaw. With a steady grip on the jaw, doctors will move the mandible back into place.

In some cases, the doctor may then use a Barton bandage. These are supportive bandages that go around the head and jaw. This will help to restrict movement and support the jaw as it heals. It may be worn for a few days after.

A doctor may also advise against yawning or any other extensions of the jaw for a specific time after treatment as extreme movements of the jaw could delay recovery or cause further injury.

In the most severe cases, surgery is an option. For example, reducing the size of ligaments around the jaw can help to tighten the joint and prevent further injuries.

The outlook for broken or dislocated jaws varies depending on the severity of the injury.

A minor break can often heal on its own without the need for medical intervention. More severe breaks will probably require supportive medical devices around the jaw. The healing process can take several weeks or months.

The recovery time may be longer if the jaw does not receive sufficient rest. Surgery can also extend the time for a full recovery.