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Jaw dislocation

4-minute read

What is jaw dislocation?

Jaw dislocation is when the lower part of the jaw moves out of its normal position. It normally heals well, but it can cause problems in future. If you dislocated your jaw, seek medical help as soon as possible. Never try to put a dislocation back in place yourself.

The lower part of the jaw is connected to the skull by joints just in front of each ear, which are called the temporomandibular joints (TMJ joints). A dislocated jaw occurs when the lower part of the jaw is pulled away from one or both of the TMJ joints. Even if it pops back in, it can still cause pain and other problems.

What symptoms relate to a dislocated jaw?

A dislocated jaw can interfere with eating and sleeping. It will also feel stiff, swollen and sore. The sooner you see a doctor, the better, since this will reduce the chances of future complications.

Other symptoms of a dislocated jaw include:

  • pain in the TMJ joint that gets worse when you move your jaw
  • changes to your bite — your teeth don’t line up properly
  • problems with talking
  • being unable to move the jaw or close your mouth properly
  • difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • drooling
  • a locked jaw, or a jaw that sticks out forward

What causes a dislocated jaw?

Jaw dislocation is usually the result of an injury, such as when someone hurts their face by falling, or they are in a vehicle accident. Sometimes, it happens just because they open their mouth too wide, for example when they are eating, yawning, vomiting or having a dental procedure.

A condition called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) can cause pain, abnormal jaw movements and joint noises.

When should I see my doctor?

Seek medical attention immediately if you have a dislocated jaw.

You should see a doctor if you’re not sure, if you have pain and tenderness in your jaw that doesn’t go away, or if you can’t open or close your jaw completely.

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How is a dislocated jaw treated?

Your doctor will diagnose a dislocated jaw with a physical examination and an x-ray.

They will manipulate the joint back into its correct position either manually or sometimes in surgery. You will have an anaesthetic so you don’t feel any pain, and medicines to relax your muscles so the jaw can be moved back into place properly.

Once your jaw is back in place, it will need to be kept stable with bandages that prevent you from opening your mouth too wide. You should not open your mouth wide for 6 weeks after you have dislocated your jaw. Support your jaw in your hand every time you sneeze or yawn during this time.

Jaw dislocation self-care

Seek medical attention straight away if you think you have a dislocated jaw. On the way to hospital, hold the jaw in place with your hand or with a loose bandage. Don’t make the bandage too tight — you should be able to remove it easily in case you vomit.

After the jaw is back in place, you can control pain with medicines and a cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes at a time every 2 to 3 hours. Eat soft foods so you don’t have to move your jaw too much to chew.

If you have TMD, avoid chewing gum, don’t clench your jaw or open your mouth too wide. You can try wearing a mouthguard at night to prevent you from grinding your teeth, and you can use relaxation exercises to minimise stress. Sometimes exercises to strengthen your jaw can also help.

Can a dislocated jaw be prevented?

Use a mouth guard, helmet or other safety equipment to protect your face during sport.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2020

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