A patient came to my office four months ago complaining that she woke up every morning with her jaw in a locked position. It was so bad that her morning routine starting by standing in the shower bathing her jaw with hot water until her jaw popped open. Then she could start her day.
Her problem however didn’t stop with this unlocking event. Her jaw would click and then lock numerous times during the day and she had no choice but to manually force it open. Each unlocking effort was accompanied with pain that intensified as the day passed. She also had to support her jaw with her hand in order to chew and she worried that her lockjaw problem would interfere with her ability to talk and fulfill her professional responsibilities as a teacher.
Remarkably her problem seemingly just started one morning. There was no history of trauma, no recent dental visits, and no underlying medical problems that could be responsible for the onset of the jaw clicking and locking. It just started one day and then took over her life.
Treating Locked Jaw
Just like a knee problem, the nature of my patient’s problem was related to compromised cartilage and unstable ligaments in the jaw joint. These problems are “orthopedic” in nature and require treatment that is similar to those used for injured knees and or ankles The treatment planned was designed to stop further injury, stabilize the joint and give the body a chance to heal.
The treatment for this patient had three parts:
• An oral appliance (orthotic) designed to prevent joint locking, relax the jaw muscles, and reduce joint inflammation.
• Exercises and physical therapy to help improve and restore proper jaw mechanics, muscle coordination, and stability of the ligaments
• Daytime behavior modification strategies to ease postural strains on the jaw and neck muscles and jaw joints
After four months of treatment, my patient has responded well with no morning jaw locking, no pain, better eating capacity and optimism that this problem was not going to compromise her ability to hold a teaching job. Though not ‘cured’, her orthopedic problem had stabilized and she was in her own words “better” and not in need of ongoing care in my office. Maintaining a home program would likely be all that she needed to stay comfortable and avoid future problematic situations.
This ability to help patients “get their lives back on track” never gets old and continues to be a source of my daily efforts when patients come seeking advice, guidance and care.
Dr. Donald Tanenbaum is a specialist with offices in New York City and Long Island, NY. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat facial pain associated with jaw problems, TMJ, referred pain, nerve pain, and migraines. Find out more at www.tanenbaumtmj.com