Temporal Mandibular Joints: What to Do If Your Jaw Locks

February 20, 2023
2 min read
Temporal Mandibular Joints: What to Do If Your Jaw Locks

One of the symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) is when the muscles in the jaw lock or become stuff. This is also more colloquially known as lockjaw.

The Temporal Mandibular joint is also known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It acts as a sliding hinge, connecting the jawbone to the skull. Everyone has two TMJ joints, one on each side of the jaw. Temporal Mandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) can cause pain in those joints and the muscles controlling their movement.

While lockjaw is most frequently associated with tetanus, it also shares this telltale symptom with TMD. There are common practices and steps taken to treat tetanus. But, if your jaw locks as a result of TMD, what should you do?

What is Lockjaw?: TMD Explained

So, what is lockjaw, and what are the symptoms associated with it? 

TMD produces a painful locking sensation in the temporomandibular joint. These joints exist on either side of the mouth and help the jaw's hinge to close. Since this junction occurs ear-to-ear, the pain can often feel as though it’s emanating from the ear area as well. It can lead to pain while chewing, cause difficulty chewing, or cause an aching facial pain. Like lockjaw, TMD can lock the TMJ joint, making it difficult to open or close your mouth. 

TMD can also cause a clicking sound or grating sensation when opening your mouth or chewing. But, clicking in your jaw is not a cause for concern. If the pain persists or worsens, see a professional.

What Causes Lockjaw? The Cause of TMD

What causes lockjaw, and what are the underlying causes? 

The exact cause of TMD isn’t always clear. Genetic factors, injuries, or other conditions like arthritis can cause TMD. When the jaw locks up, the pain can be overwhelming and severe.

The temporal mandibular joint experiences regular friction as the two parts of the jaw hinge together. The bones are covered with cartilage near the meeting point and separated by a small disk to keep movement smooth. Meanwhile, TMD occurs if there’s damage to either the joint’s cartilage, the joint itself, or to the shock-absorbing disk.

Other risk factors can contribute to the development of TMD. Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis can exacerbate TMD. Also, a jaw injury can pop a temporal mandibular joint out of place or otherwise lock it in place. Long-term and chronic grinding or clenching of teeth can contribute to stress and TMJ disorders. Other connective tissue diseases can also affect the connective tissue around the TMJ, especially the disc.

How to Fix Lockjaw: What to Do about TJD

Fixing lockjaw begins with a few simple exercises that can be completed at home. The first step is to relax and keep calm. Stress can increase tension in the jaw. If possible, place your jaw between your palms and gently wiggle from side to side. Then try wiggling it back and forth. This may be enough to pop the disc back into place.

If this doesn’t work, apply heating pads to the side of the jaw to relax the muscles. This may similarly help the disk return to its rightful place. If you can’t easily pop it back, don’t force it to move. Instead, seek immediate medical attention.

Unlock Your Temporal Mandibular Joints with a BASS Medical Professional

Most issues relating to Temporomandibular Joint Disorder can be resolved at home or by following at-home treatments. However, if your TMJ continues to bother you and exercises don’t help, call on an expert. 

BASS Medical is home to board-certified specialists who are here to help with your medical challenges. They can recommend further action after examining your temporal mandibular joint firsthand. Don’t face this pain all alone. Rely on BASS’s expert advice.