The clinical term “lockjaw” refers to a specific problem that can be the sign of a serious bacterial infection called Tetanus. Happily, due of the widespread use of the vaccine, it is extremely rare today for anyone in the U.S to develop it. But the expression “Lockjaw” lives on and is today what most people use to describe the scary feeling of waking up in the morning unable being unable to open your mouth without extreme pain.
In most cases, the causes of this kind of lockjaw are not because of a disease, but are usually related to overuse of the jaw muscle, which work much like a hinge. But that fact doesn’t mean that the average person doesn’t get very panicky when his or her mouth just won’t open without extreme pain.
If you were vaccinated for Tetanus as a child and you haven’t experienced any trauma or injury to your jaw, it’s likely that you can’t open your mouth because your jaw muscles are in spasm. Here are a few tips that should help ease the pain, help you open your mouth, and get you on your way:
Lockjaw: What To Do When You Can’t Open Your Mouth
First Thing In The Morning
If you wake up with jaw muscles which are in spasm and you can’t open your mouth or can only open it slightly, it’s a sign that you have either been overusing your jaw muscles during the day or you have been aggressively grinding or clenching your teeth during of the night. Unfortunately, grinding (also called bruxing) and clenching are common in today’s high-paced world especially for people who spend most of their working hours at a computer. Here’s what to do:
Lockjaw in the Morning
Use Moist Heat: Get into a hot shower and while the water is running on your face, gently massage your temples and your jaw. Do this for five minutes. Take a break and then do it for five more minutes. This simple method should ease the muscle spasms enough for you to gently ease your mouth open without pain.
What To Do During the Day To Avoid Lockjaw
Start to pay attention to behaviors or habits that overwork your jaw muscles and work to change them. These are commonly
• Nail biting
• Cuticle gnawing
• Chewing on pens or pencils
• Biting your lips or cheeks
• Clenching or grinding your teeth (especially while you are working at your computer)
When To See Your Dentist
If you are experiencing a locked jaw most mornings, and if you feel or hear “clicking” in the joint your jaw joint is probably “slipping.” This is a more serious problem that needs medical attention right away.
Aside from being really frightening most cases of lockjaw are not serious. Try to change some of your habits and you will probably experience a reduction in the occurrence of this painful problem.
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, and TMJ. Find out more at www.tanenbaumtmj.com