Yes, this can happen! In fact, it is very common to see patients with Lockjaw symptoms: the inability to open their mouth. Typically this occurs due to problems associated with the jaw and/ or neck muscles (spasm, tension), and problems associated with the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) such as cartilage slippage, ligament instability, and inflammation induced pain. In addition, as these physical problems persist, fear enters the picture, contributing to further reduction in jaw opening. Certainly, infections, erupting wisdom teeth and other medical problems can also cause Lockjaw symptoms, but these occurrences are much less common.
In order for you to understand why Lockjaw can occur, here’s a brief review of how your jaw operates:
The jaw essentially functions like a hinge, allowing opening and closing of the mouth (when all is functioning normally). The hinges, which are on the right and left side, are called the Temporomandibular Joints (TMJs). In these joints, there is cartilage (a shock absorber), ligaments (keep the joints stable) and lubrication systems which keep the joint moist and well nourished. Muscles move the joints. There are muscles that open the mouth, close the mouth, and allow movements to the right, left and forward and back. These muscles typically maintain a resting posture unless a specific jaw motion is needed to yawn, speak, or eat.
As long as the Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ’s) and muscles of the jaw are healthy, full jaw motion is expected. If, however, the jaw muscles become fatigued, inflamed, or begin to shorten in their length (contract, spasm), jaw motion can become limited to a small or significant extent. Additionally, if there has been disruption to the Temporomandibular Joints, jaw problems can become severe. Since the Temporomandibular Joints are no different than other joints in the body, problems with the cartilage or ligaments can occur, leading to limited jaw motion and pain.
Lockjaw, then, is most commonly the result of compromise in either the TMJs, the jaw muscles or both occurring together. Depending on the severity of compromise, the restriction of jaw motion experienced may be mild or severe. At times our patients can’t even get one finger in their mouth.
At other times tension in the neck and shoulder muscles can adversely influence the jaw muscles and prevent full opening of the mouth. It is not uncommon for patients to come to my office with a limited jaw motion problem that is resolved by treating the neck muscles!
Fortunately, the common problems leading to Lockjaw can be managed successfully. The key is establishing the right diagnosis and my practice is here to help you recover. If you are suffering from Lockjaw please call my NYC or Long Island offices today.
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